Geriatric Nursing: A Specialty in Need

As the U.S. population ages, geriatric nurses and nurse practitioners (NPs) can make an impact.

The need for geriatric nurses can be explained simply by looking at data highlighting an aging United States. From 2009 to 2019, the population of adults age 65 and older grew 36% to more than 54 million Americans, according to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) — a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. By contrast, the under-65 population grew just 3%.

“Because of great healthcare and many other factors, people are living longer,” said Janice Whitaker, BSN, MEd, RN, administrator and community liaison for the Tressa Nese and Helen Diskevich Center for Geriatric Nursing Excellence (CGNE) at Penn State University. “Geriatric nurses are critical to our healthcare workforce.”

As the growth of the U.S. population continues — more than one in five adults in the U.S. will be over 65 by 2040, says the ACL — signaling a higher demand for geriatric nurses and NPs.

“I often tell students that you’re always going to have a job if you work in geriatrics,” Whitaker said. “In many geriatric professions, we usually have very steady hours and very steady employment.”

Attention for geriatrics

Kathleen Breda, MSN, BBA, APN, AGACNP-BC, GRN, ONP-C, is a second-career nurse and the lead NP in the orthopedics department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California, overseeing the geriatric fracture program.

Kathleen Breda, APN

Throughout the facility, adults 65 and older dominate the patient population.

“We’re basically a geriatric-focused hospital,” Breda said. “The majority of our patients are 65 years and older. We take care of more 80-year-olds than any other tertiary Level I trauma academic center in the U.S.”

That focus on geriatric care, however, isn’t as prevalent across the country, according to Breda.

“A lot of folks really don’t appreciate that geriatrics is a specialty, just like pediatrics is a specialty,” she said.

When working with nursing students, Whitaker also notices a lack of attention on geriatrics.

“They often think of things like intensive care, emergency room, pediatrics, [and] neonatal ICU,” she said. “What’s important for them to understand is that in many of the places that they believe they want to work — whether it’s ICU or ER or medical/surgical units, orthopedics, or acute care — more than 60% of those patients are older adults.”

Through her work at Penn State, Whitaker and the CGNE are trying to increase interest and commitment toward expanding geriatric nurse opportunities.

“We know that we need more nurses being recruited into this field,” she said.

Necessities for geriatrics

When working with older adults, a geriatric nurse or geriatric NP needs several key traits, according to experts.

Janice Whitaker, RN

“They need to have strong assessment skills, being able to do physical, mental, emotional, and social assessments of their patients and develop comprehensive healthcare plans,” Whitaker said. “Older adults have complex health needs. They don’t often have one simple problem.”

Breda added …read more

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