Education & Training
Nursing roles are diverse, ranging from delivering or overseeing direct care and coordinating case management to establishing nursing practice standards, developing quality assurance procedures, and directing complex nursing care systems. Nurses specializing in geriatrics are educated to understand and treat the often complex physical and mental health needs of older people. They try to help older men and women protect health and manage changes in mental and physical abilities.
Education for nurses varies widely depending on their roles. For example:
- Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)/Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN): LPNs are technician-level nurses who work under the direction of registered nurses. They generally have 1 year of training at a vocational or technical school. Many LPNs work in long-term care settings where they participate in the development of care plans, oversee the work of the nursing assistants, administer medications, and deliver treatments.
- Registered Nurses (RNs): Most RNs pursue their education either at community colleges (3-year programs resulting in an associate degree) or via a 4-year baccalaureate (BSN) program.
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs): APRNs are a vital part of the U.S. health system. They are registered nurses educated at the graduate (Master’s, doctoral, or post-graduate) level and in a specific role/for a specific population, like older adults, as well as in a specific setting (i.e., acute care or primary care). APRNs are prepared by education and certification to assess, diagnose, and manage health challenges, order tests, and prescribe certain medications. Depending on state requirements and/or billing requirements, APRNs must take a national certification in their specialty (which is then renewed every 5 years).
Examinations & Licensure
Basic nursing graduates all take the same licensing exam—called the NCLEX-RN—to practice as RNs. Ongoing maintenance of their licenses varies by state in terms of whether or not continuing education, practice hours, etc., are needed. With additional work experience, education, and certification (usually by way of an exam), nurses also can pursue advance standing in geriatrics. Nurses can gain a certification in gerontological nursing from the American Nurses Credentialing Center, thereby demonstrating advanced knowledge in the care of older adults.
In geriatrics, nurses work in a variety of practice settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living settings, rehabilitation facilities, senior centers, and retirement communities, older peoples’ homes, primary care offices, and specialty areas (e.g., cardiology, orthopedics, mental health), among other locations. They often work as part of a care team that includes physicians, social workers, nursing assistants, physical and occupational therapists, and other care professionals. In hospitals, nurses may also participate in specialty practices such as palliative care, wound care, or pain management.
In rehabilitation and long-term care facilities, nurses manage care from initial assessment through development, implementation, and evaluation of a care plan. They may also take on administrative, training, and leadership roles. APRNs in particular often assume a coordination role among the multiple team members interacting with an older person and caregivers.
Developed with thanks to Barbara Resnick, PhD, CRNP, FAAN, FAANP, AGSF