Geriatric Care Degree Program Information

If you are interested in a career as a geriatric care specialist, you have a few options. These choices range from undergraduate certificates to associate's degrees, registered nursing degrees, post graduate degrees or certificates, and the Doctor of Medicine degree earned by physicians.

Essential Information

An associate's degree in geriatric assisting could lead to work as a home health attendant. Registered nurses who wish to specialize in nursing for the elderly may pursue a post-baccalaureate certificate in geriatric care or they may enroll in nurse practitioner master's programs that focus on gerontology. Students who aspire to be medical doctors can join rotations or pursue fellowships in gerontology through Doctor of Medicine programs. Geriatric care degree program fields include home health care, nursing, nurse practitioner, geriatric care administration, and medical doctor. Prerequisites vary by degree level, while hands-on training is common in all programs.

Associate Certificate in Geriatric Assisting

The associate-level certificate in geriatric nursing is offered primarily by 2-year colleges. Students who are already CNAs may complete the certificate program in one semester, but the program is also offered as a 2-semester program. The geriatric care certificate alone usually consists of four or five courses, which can be completed in one semester on a full-time basis. The curriculum includes both lab and practical courses, typically including the following:

  • Care of patients with dementia
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Special geriatric issues
  • Human relations in health care practice
  • Hygiene and sanitation

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Geriatric Care and Management

Post-baccalaureate or graduate certificate programs in geriatric care and management are designed for registered nurses who are seeking focused training in the area of geriatric care and already hold a nursing (BSN) degree. The certificate adds supplemental training for the generalist nurse to begin practicing in the geriatric care field. The coursework for graduate certificates in geriatric care usually requires under a year and is similar to the theory courses of a nurse practitioner program in geriatrics. These include:

  • Health for healthcare professionals
  • Cultural diversity in medical practice
  • Geriatric research
  • Geriatric health management
  • Disease and syndrome management

Geriatric Nurse Practitioner Master's Degree

Nurse practitioners with training as geriatric care specialists provide direct medical care to their target populations. Nurse practitioner programs almost always require applicants to hold BSN degrees and have some years of practice in the field.

Most nurse practitioner programs for geriatric care take three to four semesters to complete, depending on the student's enrollment status. Substantial portions of the coursework consist of clinical practice in addition to the following coursework:

  • Advanced pharmacology and pathophysiology
  • Advanced physical assessment
  • Trends in aging
  • Clinical management in geriatric care
  • Geriatric primary care

Master's Degree in Geriatric Care Management

Geriatric care management, as a degree, is more service and less medically oriented. Geriatric care managers usually work with individuals and their families to streamline access to medical care, and to help clients understand what their options are.

Master's degree candidates typically take 15 hours of core curriculum courses, 8 to 10 hours of elective work and complete a thesis for defense. Coursework may include the following:

  • Health policy and managed care
  • Planning and implementing geriatric care
  • Legal and financial issues of geriatric care
  • Physiology and psychology of aging
  • Death, dying and bereavement

Doctor of Medicine, Geriatric Specialty

Medical students interested in specializing in geriatric care can apply to geriatric fellowships at the conclusion of their general medical education. Most geriatric specialty training occurs through departments of internal medicine, and rotations include geriatric psychiatry, patient evaluation, sub-acute care, home-based primary care, hospice, long-term care and palliative medicine. Rotations can take as little as one year to complete before fellows may take the national examination for internal medicine to practice as geriatric care specialists.

Rotations are completed at various geriatric units within hospitals and other health care centers, including nursing homes, hospices and in private homes. Geriatric care fellows typically spend 6 to 8 weeks per rotation, and are tested throughout the rotation to determine knowledge of the following subject areas:

  • Coordination of health care
  • Pharmacology and treatment of chronic illness
  • Diagnosis of affective disorders, identifying depression and dementia
  • Family dynamics and home health care
  • Managing terminally ill patients

Continuing Education

Students who are certified nurse assistants and who possess certificates in geriatric care may consider earning associate or bachelor's degrees in nursing. These degree programs typically only cover general nursing and include a unit or two of geriatrics and gerontology; however, post-graduate opportunities in geriatric care frequently require an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing as a prerequisite.

Students who complete a graduate certificate program in geriatric care may wish to enter a master's degree program for nurse practitioners. These programs typically result in eligibility to test for and practice as a nurse practitioner in a selected specialty, such as geriatric care.

All medical doctors are required to complete annual continuing education units in their specialty fields. To satisfy this requirement, physicians may take courses covering recent pharmacological developments, attend seminars devoted to discussions of the latest trends in geriatric care and health management, and attend grand rounds at other hospitals where patient health is under discussion.

Popular Career Options

Certified nurse assistants with geriatric care certificates frequently work in hospitals, clinics, hospices and nursing homes. Geriatric nurses typically interact with patients more closely than physicians, providing essential day-to-day care in one of the following roles:

  • Physical therapy aide
  • Assisted living nurse assistant
  • Patient care technician
  • Home health aide

Geriatric nurse practitioners work in hospitals, clinics, private doctors' offices and in academia. Some positions they may hold include the following:

  • Primary care provider
  • Geriatrics researcher
  • Geriatric care instructor
  • Clinical nurse supervisor

Graduate programs in geriatric care management are designed mainly for students who want to work directly with clients; however, some graduates may work with agencies on aging or other eldercare organizations, writing policy guidelines, for example. Some common job titles include the following:

  • Geriatric care coordinator
  • Client health liaison
  • Patient advocate
  • Case manager

There are many options available to someone interested in the field of geriatric care. Schooling may prepare students for service, nursing, administrative, or medical roles in geriatrics.

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