4 Steps to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

6 Min Read Published September 20, 2023
4 Steps to Becoming a Geriatric Nurse

Geriatric nurses, or gerontological nurses, are registered nurses that specialize in care for the elderly. These admirable healthcare workers bring comfort and care to a vulnerable segment of the population.

This guide will cover what a geriatric nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more.

What is a Geriatric Nurse?

Gerontology is the study of the mental, physical and social aspects of the aging population. Some of the main functions of geriatric nurses are helping with bedside care, guiding daily activities, administering medications, and educating patients and caregivers. 

Geriatric nurses care for patients with a wide range of health conditions including Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart failure, stroke and shingles, to name a few.

What Does a Geriatric Nurse Do?

The primary duties of geriatric nurses are to care for and educate patients, their families, and caregivers. However, job responsibilities can vary depending on the place of employment. Geriatric nurses may also perform a variety of tasks, including:

  1. Preparing and updating nursing care plans
  2. Collecting bloodwork and other laboratory tests as ordered
  3. Administering medications
  4. Triaging and stabilizing patients requiring immediate medical attention
  5. Obtaining vital signs and performing nursing assessments
  6. Assisting in performing emergency procedures 
  7. Changing wound and/or surgical dressings
  8. Continually assessing the patient’s level of independence, injury, or disability
  9. Lifting and transferring patients

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Geriatric Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2022 is $81,220 per year or $39.05 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary.

 The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but Glassdoor reports an annual salary of $68,791 for geriatric nurses, while PayScale reports an average annual salary of $70,585 or $30.68 per hour.

However, geriatric nurses can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience.

  • Less than 1 year of experience earns an average hourly wage of $28.53 
  • 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly wage of $29.54
  • 5-9 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $31.05
  • 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $32.46
  • 20 years and higher years of experience earns an average hourly wage of $34.00

According to ZipRecruiter, geriatric nurses earn the highest average yearly rates in the following states.

  • Tennessee - $116,333
  • Hawaii - $113,108
  • Minnesota - $112,299
  • Massachusetts - $112,142
  • Nevada - $111,808

Regardless of location, full- and part-time geriatric nurses often enjoy a wide range of employment benefits. Some common benefits include paid time off, health insurance, relocation assistance, retirement plans and continuing education reimbursement.   

How Do You Become a Geriatric Nurse?

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

The first step is to earn either an Associates's Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing( BSN) from an accredited nursing program. Associates degrees are typically offered at community colleges while bachelor’s are typically offered at four-year colleges.

Many nursing programs incorporate classes and modules focusing on geriatric nursing.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Then, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) examination to become a registered nurse.

Step 3: Gain bedside experience

It’s possible to be hired as a geriatric nurse right out of nursing schools, especially with sufficient critical care experience. Critical care experience is ideal because it prepares aspiring geriatric nurses for the types of illness, artificial ventilation, and severity of the disease processes they will experience in the field.

Step 4: Earn certification

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Gerontological Nursing Certification (RN-BC) to eligible nurses. While not required, most nurses find this certification as a way to advance their careers. 

Here’s some additional info from them on the certification requirements:

Certification Requirements

  • An active RN license
  • 2 years of nursing experience
  • 2,000 hours of gerontological nursing  clinical practice
  • 30 hours of continuing education

Where Do Geriatric Nurses Work?

Status as a geriatric nurse opens up a world of career opportunities. Geriatric nurses are needed in hospitals, nursing homes and home care settings. However, they also pop up in unexpected fields including:

  1. Academia
  2. Case management
  3. Government agencies
  4. Healthcare insurance companies
  5. Rehabilitation facilities
  6. Medical supply companies
  7. Memory care centers
  8. Military facilities
  9. Private physician offices

What is the Career Outlook for a Geriatric Nurse?

According to the BLS, there were 3,172,500 Registered Nurses in the United States in 2022. By 2032, it’s expected that another 177,400 nurses will be needed, an expected growth of 6%.

Geriatric nurses are one of the most highly demanded nursing specialties. Because of the aging Baby Boomer population, geriatric nurses are especially needed in long-term care facilities. 

As Americans continue to live longer, this need will only continue to rise. 

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What are the Continuing Education Requirements for a Geriatric Nurse?

Geriatric nurses need to maintain a current resident nurse’s license. Renewing an RN license requires an application, a certain number of continuing education units (CEU), and a nominal fee. 

Each state has specific renewal requirements. It is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management. 

RN-BC nurses are required to complete specific CEUs to maintain certification. The continuing education hours can also be used for nursing license recertification. 

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioners (AGNPs) provide care and support to patients throughout their adult lives. AGNPs diagnose, examine, and treat their patients while offering routine checkups, assessments, counseling, and education. 

Adult-gerontology NPs have different duties depending on whether they are primary or acute care, but they can include:

  • Analyzing patients' health histories, symptoms, and diagnostic information to develop diagnoses and treatment plans
  • Prescribing medication dosages, routes, and frequencies
  • Educating patients and caregivers 

For more information on adult gerontology nurse practitioners, check out our guide

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for nurse practitioners in 2022 was 177,400 per year, or $60.53 per hour. Unfortunately, the BLS does not differentiate between different types of Nurse Practitioners.

According to Glassdoor.com, adult gerontology NPs make, on average, $134,073 per year. Payscale.com reports an average annual salary of Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioners of $90,088 or $49.27 per hour. 

Based on years of experience, Adult-Gerontology NPs can make the following, 

  • Less than 1 year of experience earn an average salary of $89,533
  • 1-4 years of experience earn an average salary of $92,071
  • 5-9 years of experience earns an average salary of $102,047
  • 10-19 years of experience earns an average salary of $95,501
  • 20+ years of experience earns an average salary of $82,200

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Resources for Geriatric Nurses

  1. American Assisted Living Nurses Association
  2. American Association of Nurse Practitioners
  3. American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing
  4. American Geriatrics Society
  5. American Nurses Association
  6. American Society of Aging
  7. Eldercare Workforce Alliance
  8. Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association
  9. Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing
  10. National Gerontological Nursing Association
  11. The Gerontological Society of America

Geriatric Nurse FAQs

  • What is the meaning of geriatric nurse?

    • Geriatric nurses are registered nurses who specialize in the field of gerontology, which is the study of the mental, physical, and social aspects of the aging population
  • How long does it take to become a geriatric nurse practitioner?

    • It typically takes at least 10 years from the beginning of your undergraduate education to completing an adult gerontology nurse practitioner program. That includes a bachelor's degree, clinical experience, and either a master's or doctorate NP degree. Most NP programs require at least two years of bedside experience.
  • How much do geriatric nurse practitioners make?

    • According to Glassdoor.com, adult gerontology NPs make, on average, $134,073 per year. 

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Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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