As baby boomers are poised to become the largest senior population the world has ever seen, the need for geriatric nurses and nurse practitioners has never been greater. We need a healthcare system that can meet the needs of older adults, despite the fact that there is only a small nursing workforce ready to take on the challenge. According to a 2012 report by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, geriatric nurse practitioners only make up 3.2% of all practicing nurse practitioners. To really put things into perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030 the number of adults meeting the criteria for geriatric care will be hovering around 72 million people. If ever you were considering a career as a geriatric nurse or nurse practitioner, now is the time.
Because of the large skill-set required, it is best to plan ahead, even better if you’re thinking about a career in geriatrics before you’ve begun nursing school. Gerontological nurse practitioners (GNPs) hold master’s degrees, post-master’s certificates, and even doctorate degrees specific to geriatrics. While overall credit and clinical requirements do vary, it is important to focus on training and classes with an emphasis on the care of older adults. When scheduling externships in clinical locations, work at a site that allows you extra experience with older patients. It is worth noting that in 2012, the Advanced Practice Registered Nurses Advisory Committee moved to eliminate Gerontological nurse practitioner as its own licensing track. Instead, those who desire to work within geriatrics must pursue certification as an Adult Gerontology Acute Nurse Care Nurse Practitioner or as an Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. This allows future GNPs the ability to deal with younger patient health as well.
GNPs do have unique responsibilities, however, sometimes beyond what is usually expected. These responsibilities can range from helping patients with their insurance to calming fears and explaining which treatments are necessary and which are not. Many seniors need help translating complicated medical terminology and if they’re aging alone, need someone to advocate on their behalf for the best care possible. Beyond these abstract duties, the skill-set can be organized as follows:
- Patient Care
- Treatment Planning
- Patient and Family Education
- Mental Health
- Long-Term Care
Depending upon where you’re working, the duty and skill requirements change. For example, a nurse practitioner working in a long-term care facility will have different duties than a GNP working in a clinical setting. A GNP in a long-term care facility will see their patients every day, allowing them to accumulate detailed observations and build strong relationships with patients and their families. In a long-term care facility, GNPs may be pushed into the role of primary care providers, coordinating care and collaboration between generalists, gerontologists, specialists, social workers, therapists, and other nursing staff. They may order tests and interpret results, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and offer patient council.
Many older adults do not need such comprehensive care, but demand is also high in outpatient clinics, palliative care groups, home health groups, or even for private practice. The healthcare industry needs individuals who are ready to tackle the complex needs of our growing senior population. While the job is sure to be overwhelming at times, it is surely gratifying. Working with patients from diverse backgrounds while also addressing a major health need is a unique and rewarding opportunity.
Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Prime Medical Alert and Senior Planning. Senior Planning is a free service intended to help seniors and their families navigate the often-complicated process of obtaining long-term care.