Geriatric Nurse: Educational Requirements for Geriatric Nursing

Geriatric nursing is generally studied through a graduate degree program, though RNs with undergraduate degrees can also become geriatric nurses. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Geriatric nurses are licensed and certified as registered nurses, and then complete additional training in care of the elderly. Training could included clinical training and continuing education, or a graduate nursing program.

Essential Information

Geriatric nurses tailor medical care to the specific needs of elderly patients. They often work in nursing homes and hospitals. These professionals must first complete a registered nursing program, typically at the associate's or bachelor's degree level, and earn a registered nurse (RN) license. To specialize in geriatric nursing, they may either pursue clinical training and continuing education in gerontology, or they may advance to a graduate nursing program. Those who complete graduate education typically become advanced practice nurses, such as nurse practitioners, with a geriatric or gerontology specialization.

Career Title Geriatric RN Geriatric or Gerontological Nurse Practitioner
Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree Master's degree, graduate certificate or doctorate
Licensure Required Required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 16% for all RNs 31% for all nurse practitioners
Average Salary (2015)* $71,000 for all RNs $101,260 for all nurse practitioners

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for Geriatric Nurses

Geriatric nurses receive the same core health care training as other nurses, typically through associate's and bachelor's degree programs. Topics of study include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, patient care and ethics. Some undergraduate degree programs offer courses in geriatric nursing, but these are brief and introductory. There are also practical components through on-site clinics or internships. These studies prepare candidates to sit for the exams necessary to become registered nurses (RNs).

Aspiring geriatric nurses can then tailor their continuing-education studies to the field of gerontology, either through experiential hospital programs or through graduate studies. Advanced education and fellowship opportunities can prepare nurses for careers in academia or geriatric research.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has no specific salary data for geriatric nurses, but the agency did report in May 2015 that the average yearly salary for all RNs employed in the U.S. was $71,000.

All types of nurse practitioners, including geriatric or gerontological NPs, earned an average of $101,260 as of May 2015, per the BLS.

Master of Science in Geriatric Nursing

These programs take 2-3 years to complete, and may also be known as adult health nursing programs. Graduates may pursue advanced credentials, such as adult nurse practitioner certification from the American Nurses' Credentialing Center (ANCC). Common courses include:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Nursing research
  • Elderly nursing problems

Graduate Certificate in Geriatric Nursing

This program is for those who hold a master's degree in nursing and wish to become clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners that specialize in gerontology. Depending on the institution, its length ranges from 12-27 credits. Some classes may be available online. Topics include:

  • Promoting health
  • Issues in nursing the elderly
  • Nursing theories
  • Chronic health management

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Geriatric Nursing

Ph.D. in Geriatric Nursing programs are designed for nurses interested in becoming researchers and can be completed in three years. They cover research methods and medical ethics. Students must also complete and defend an original dissertation with consultation from a faculty panel.

National Licensure

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing requires all nurses who work in the United States to be licensed in order to legally perform duties in the field. After graduation from an approved diploma or degree program, individuals must complete the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Some states require additional licensure beyond the exam; individuals should investigate their region's requirements prior to embarking on a career as a geriatric nurse.

Geriatric nurses focus on care of the elderly, usually in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Some are registered nurses with associate's or bachelor's degrees who have taken courses in geriatric nursing, while other are nurse practitioners with graduate degrees or certificates in geriatric care. All nurses must meet their state's licensing requirements.


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