Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: How Do I Become One?

Should I Become a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

Gerontology nurse practitioners (GNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in medical issues related to aging. They provide advanced nursing care to elderly patients in general or family medical practice settings. Often serving as primary health care providers, GNPs are responsible for the evaluation and management of acute and chronic health problems common to the elderly. These nurses may need to work on their feet for prolonged periods of time and might be required to move, turn or lift patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Fields Nursing
Experience 1 to 2 years typically required
Licensure and Certification All states require registered nurse (RN) licensure; most states also require licensure or certification for APRNs
Key Skills Communication and critical-thinking skills, attention to detail, leadership and interpersonal skills, resourcefulness, compassion
Salary $95,350 per year (2014 median salary for all nurse practitioners)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

Step 1: Obtain an Undergraduate Degree in Nursing

A prospective GNP must first become a registered nurse (RN). There are multiple educational paths that can lead to becoming an RN, but GNP graduate degree programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. Nursing programs provide students with a combination of supervised clinical experience and classroom learning. Students learn basic nursing concepts, such as health assessment, anatomy and physiology, patient safety, disease prevention methods and health care delivery.

Success Tip

  • Maintain minimum GPA requirements. Graduate-level GNP programs are highly competitive and often require applicants to have maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher in undergraduate nursing school. Nursing students who plan to advance to a GNP program should endeavor to meet or exceed this GPA.

Step 2: Obtain State RN Licensure

Prospective gerontology nurse practitioners must first pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Some state nursing boards have additional licensing requirements for obtaining an RN license. Nurses who are licensed in one state often can apply for an RN license by endorsement in another state.

Step 3: Obtain Experience

Many graduate degree programs encourage or require applicants to have at least one year of experience working as a registered nurse in gerontology. Nurses can find gerontology nursing work at hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics and long-term care facilities.

Success Tip

  • Maintain licensure. Maintaining one's RN license is a requirement for all nurse practitioners. Requirements to renew an RN license vary from state to state, but generally include a minimum number of continuing education hours, along with work as a nurse each year.

Step 4: Obtain a Master's Degree

Aspiring GNPs can enroll in a gerontology nurse practitioner master's degree program at an accredited school. These programs generally take 1 to 3 years to complete, depending on whether attendance is full- or part-time. Gerontology nurse practitioner programs place heavy emphasis on learning advanced clinical skills, such as performing physical examinations, conducting assessments, making diagnoses and providing treatment. Specialty courses cover medical issues unique to older populations, nursing methods and primary care practices. Students who already have a master's degree in a different nursing field may opt to complete a post-master's graduate certificate program for gerontology nurse practitioners.

Success Tip

  • Obtain prescription writing authority. Some employers prefer their GNPs to have the ability to write prescriptions. This authority is granted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and requires that candidates have received specific training in pharmacology and prescription medications. This training is available as part of many graduate degree programs.

Step 5: Earn Certification

Graduates of accredited gerontology nurse practitioner master's degree programs are eligible to take certification exams for acute or primary care gerontology nurse practitioners administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Upon successfully passing the exam, they are certified as an Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AGACNP-BC) or an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP-BC). Candidates must have a valid RN license and a minimum of 500 hours of supervised clinical practice to qualify for certification. This certification will need to be maintained by completing a set number of continuing education hours per year.

Graduates also can take the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners' (AANP) Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner certification examination. Certification must be renewed every five years by re-examination or meeting minimum requirements for clinical practice and continuing education.

Step 6: Obtain an Advanced Practice Nursing License

Many states require nurse practitioners to be licensed or certified for advanced practice nursing. Requirements vary from state to state, but generally include that nurse practitioners hold a valid RN license, be a graduate of an accredited nurse practitioner master's degree program and be certified by a recognized credentialing authority.

Step 7: Consider a Doctorate in Nursing Practice

Gerontology nurse practitioners looking to advance in their careers may consider earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Practitioners with this post-master's degree have the highest level of education for this career. With a DNP, these professionals can advance to administrative roles responsible for the oversight of healthcare delivery systems for the elderly.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional association. Nurse practitioners can further explore advances in gerontology by joining associations, such as National Gerontological Nursing Association and the Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association. Through these associations, practitioners have access to benefits that include continuing education conferences, journals and newsletters to stay abreast of geriatric healthcare issues.
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