If you’re looking to specialize in a field with a lot of patient contact and a strong job market, you might consider geriatric nursing. Because the population as a whole is aging, there will be a tremendous demand for nurses with specialized knowledge of caring for the elderly.
Approximately 75 percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition, including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, dementia, neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, and cancer. They may also have a condition like osteoporosis or vertigo that puts them at higher risk of injury or falls. And, it can be challenging to manage the dosing and side effects of common medications in seniors, because their bodies metabolize drugs differently. Even relatively healthy seniors are likely to have normal, age-related physical, mental, and emotional changes. They may also exhibit a different set of symptoms for a common condition – for example, it’s common for an elderly patient with a UTI to develop delirium that clears up with antibiotic treatment. All of these factors contribute to the complexity of caring for older patients.
Geriatric nursing draws on a body of knowledge about the complex factors that affect health as people age. As a geriatric nurse, your specialized knowledge of older patients can allow you to support maximum function and quality of life, both for patients and their families, while helping to coordinate care across the continuum. You’ll be able to find work in nursing homes, private practices, hospices, hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehab facilities, community service agencies, and home healthcare services. In some of these settings, the majority of patients are older adults.
It’s also been suggested that geriatric nurses should develop skill and competence in nursing informatics, because of the important role it plays in chronic disease management. Systems that allow information to be shared between providers and community resource groups can help improve community-based care for those seniors who are aging in place. Other technologies are also becoming increasingly important: telemonitoring, home activity sensors, smart pillboxes, mobile apps, care alerts, and self-care reporting systems can all be used to support adherence to treatment plans and independent living among seniors.
Because this nursing field draws on such specialized knowledge, the ANCC has a developed a certification program, so nurses can demonstrate their expertise to potential employers. However, experts have suggested that all nurses should increase their knowledge of caring for the elderly. You might consider taking a CE course in gerontology, or visiting the ConsultGeriRN.org website for a wealth of resources – including assessment tools that can help you measure pain, delirium, risk of falls, and skin integrity in your elderly patients.
American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees, including RN-to BSN and programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, and executive leadership.