Geriatric Staff Nurse - How to Become a Geriatric Staff Nurse

Geriatric Staff Nurse

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Geriatric Staff Nurse Overview


Gerontology is the specialty of geriatrics which focuses on providing care for older adults. Nurses who work in this field understand the high demands of this specialty practice area. Older adults are more likely to require health services than a young person. In fact, half of all admissions to hospitals are for patients over age 65. However, only 1 percent of nurses are certified in geriatrics.

In response to the aging of the American population, geriatric nursing is a rapidly growing career field. The post-WWII generation, called the “Baby Boomers,” is now hitting retirement age. By 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 20 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65.




A geriatric nurse is educated to assess and treat the challenging physical and mental health needs found in older people. These nurses try to assist their patients in protecting their health and coping with changes in their mental and physical abilities. The goal is to help older people remain independent and active as long as possible.

Common duties required of a geriatric nurse may include:

  • Assessment of the patient mental status and cognitive (thinking) skills

  • Understanding a patient’s acute and chronic health issues

  • Discussion of common health concerns, such as falls, sexual issues, incontinence and changing sleep patterns

  • Organizing medications

  • Educating patients about personal safety and disease prevention

  • Explaining and recommending adjustments to the patient’s medication routine to increase adherence to the treatment regimen

  • Helping the patient with access to local resources as needed

Many of the health conditions suffered by older people do not require hospitalization but must be managed with medication, changes in dietary habits, daily exercise routines, adaptations within the home and the use of special equipment, such as walkers or blood sugar monitors.

Geriatric nurses are responsible for helping patients design health care regimens and explaining the importance of the plan to patients and their families. The geriatric nurse may fill the role of case manager, connecting families with community resources to assist them in caring for elderly family members.





Must effectively communicate with your co-workers to ensure the best care and the proper procedures. Must be able to communicate in high-stress environments.

Active Listening

Offering your full attention to an individual person or group in order to fully understand problems and their nature.

Critical Thinking

Must use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Judgment and Decision Making

Needs to be able to act autonomously and make difficult decisions that would benefit the patient or make corrections. Must consider all benefits and repercussions of potential actions and choose the appropriate one. 

Complex Problem Solving

Must be able to identify complex problems and develop and evaluate corrective options and implement solutions. 

Stress Management

Must be able to endure intense situations and handle pressure that comes with extreme situations you may encounter.


Must be trustworthy because you have people's lives in your hands and what you do could help or hurt them. They are entrusted with a great responsibility and must live up to it. 


Gauging how people react and read their body language to decipher their feelings and predict their actions. They must be able to determine if people could be a risk to themselves or others and to distinguish truths from lies.


Working Conditions


Employment opportunities for geriatric nurses are available in a variety of practice settings, such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Nursing homes

  • Senior centers

  • Rehabilitation facilities

  • Retirement communities

  • Patients’ homes through home health services

Geriatric nurses often are a vital part of a health care team that includes physicians, physical and occupational therapists, nursing aides, social workers and other caring professionals.

Geriatric nurses working in a hospital setting tend to work as part of a treatment team that serve a larger older patient population. These teams may represent outpatient surgery, cardiology, ophthalmology, rehabilitation, dermatology and geriatric mental health, which may require treatment for psychiatric conditions such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety and depression.

In long-term care facilities and rehabilitation centers, geriatric nurses serve as patient care managers from the initial assessment through the development, implementation and evaluation of the care plan. Geriatric nurses may also be required to take on administrative, training and leadership roles.

There is an increasing demand for geriatric nurses because of the aging population. Employment opportunities are increasing in nursing homes and health care facilities that serve a large portion of the older patient population.



How to Become a Geriatric Staff Nurse:


The foremost requirement for a geriatric nurse is an enjoyment of working with older people. These nurses must exhibit patience, a willingness to listen extremely carefully and to balance the needs of their individual patients with the sometimes demanding and conflicting desires of family members.

A popular preparation practice for entering a career in geriatric nursing is to volunteer at a local senior center, a nursing home or hospice, or any organization that will allow experience in working with patients who suffer mobility issues, sensory deficits such as hearing loss or impaired vision, chronic and terminal diseases and cognitive impairments. The potential geriatric nurse should assess his or her ability to manage the physical and emotional challenges of working with patients who may never recover.


1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)


To become a geriatric nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN) by completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited four-year college. Although it is possible to become an RN by only completing an associate's program, candidates who go this route will be much less competitive than their bachelor's degree-holding peers.


The preparation timeline below provides an example curriculum for undergraduate nursing students:


Grade Level

Example Courses

Freshman Year


  • General Chemistry I & Lab

  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I & Lab

  • Human Anatomy & Physiology II & Lab

  • Psychology I

  • Microbiology I & Lab

  • English 101

  • Introduction to Professional Nursing

  • Nursing Informatics

  • Humanities Requirement

Sophomore Year

  • Pathophysiologic Foundations of Nursing care

  • Foundations of Nursing Practice I

  • Foundations of Nursing Practice II

  • Pharmacology and Therapeutics

  • Statistics for Evidence-Based Practice

  • Nursing Management of Adults with Acute/Chronic Illness

  • Introduction to Critical Appraisal & Evidence-Based Practice

  • Nutrition for Clinical Practice

  • Humanities Requirement

Junior Year


  • Nursing Care of Mothers, Newborns, and Families & Clinical

  • Nursing Care of Children & Clinical

  • Ethics in Nursing and Health

  • Nursing Care of Clients with Mental Health Problems & Clinical

  • Advanced Nursing Management of Adults with Acute/Complex Health Problems & Clinical

  • Nursing Care of Older Adults & Clinical

Senior Year

  • Community Health Nursing & Clinical

  • Advanced Clinical Problem Solving & Clinical

  • Transition into Professional Nursing Practice & Clinical

  • Introduction to Genetics & Molecular Therapeutics

  • Athletic Training Clinical III & IV

  • Remaining Electives


2. Take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)


The NCLEX has a varying number of questions, from 75 to a possible 265, that can be answered. There will be 15 experimental questions among the total, regardless of how many were answered. The maximum allotted time for the exam is 6 hours and no mandatory breaks are required. Testers can, however, take optional breaks after 2.5 and 3.5 hours of the exam.

The NCLEX is broken down into four primary categories under "Meeting Client Need" and eight subcategories under those:


"Meeting Client Needs" Categories


Safe and Effective Care Environments

  • Management of Care

  • Safety and Infection Control

Health Promotion and Safety

  • Health Promotion and Safety

Psychosocial Integrity


  • Psychosocial Integrity

Physiological Integrity

  • Basic Care and Comfort

  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies

  • Reduction of Risk Potential

  • Physiological Adaption


For more information on the NCLEX, visit the National Council of State Boards of Nursing

Related: Top 10 Best NCLEX-RN Review Books


3. Become Certified in Gerontological Nursing


Current registered nurses may pursue a certification in gerontological nursing if they've met the following criteria:

  • Currently hold an RN license in the U.S. or the equivalent from another country

  • 2 years of full-time practice experience

  • Minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in the specialty area of gerontological nursing within the last 3 years

  • Completed 30 hours of continuing education in gerontological nursing within the last 3 years

This certification program can be applied to any time throughout the year and the test can be taken during a 90-day window, when and where ever is most convenient for the test-taker.

The exam is 3.5 hours long, consisting of 175 questions, 150 of which are scored with the other 25 being pretest questions.


View Gerontological Nursing Certification Exam Outline

View Gerontological Nursing Certification Sample Questions


4. Maintain Gerontological Nursing Certification Through Continuing Education


Certain professional development requirements through the completion of continuing education units must be met in order to maintain your certification. They must be renewed every 5 years, and renewal applications must be submitted up to 1 year before expiration. If allowed to expire, you may be ineligible to practice.

The renewal process may be completed online or by mail. There is a $350 charge for non-members, with members of the American Nurses Association paying as little as $200 and members of the National Gerontological Nursing Association pay $280.


Manage Your Certification Renewal


Salary Outlook