Guest post by Max Gottlieb
The baby boomer generation has been dubbed the grey tide, and for good reason too. The boomer generation is the largest senior population in the history of the world. Because of this, the need for specialized geriatric care has never been greater. Specifically the need for geriatric nurses and geriatric nurse practitioners.
With the ongoing pandemic, it’s clear our current healthcare system has plenty of gaps. Even without all our health resources focusing on COVID-19, we still had a major shortage of healthcare professionals ready to take care of our older population. According graduatenursingedu.org, geriatric nurse practitioners only account for 3.2% of all practicing nurse practitioners with an average of 11.6 years of total nursing experience. To give an overall picture, the United States Census Bureau estimates that at the end of this decade, we will have 72 million citizens who will need geriatric care. For those still picking specializations, now is the time to consider focusing on geriatric nursing care.
Due to the vast amount of knowledge and skills a geriatric nurse practitioner needs, it is best to plan ahead if this is a career consideration. Gerontological nurse practitioners (GNPs) hold master’s degrees, post-master’s certificates, and even doctorate degrees specific to the field of geriatrics. As of 2012, the Advanced Practice Registered Nurses Advisory Committee eliminated Gerontological nurse practitioner as its own licensing track. Instead, those who wish to practice within geriatrics must pursue certification as an Adult Gerontology Acute Nurse Care Nurse Practitioner or as an Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner. This allows GNPs the ability to deal with younger patients as well, if desired.
Depending on the school, credit requirements vary, but it is critical to focus on courses devoted to the care of older adults. Clinical requirements also vary. When planning for externships and clinical hours, pick a site that allows extra experience with older people. While credit hours and clinical obligations can differ, it is imperative that you focus on education and training with a focus on care for the older adult population. Because the certification has changed, it is up to the student to plan their own emphasis in coursework. If planning on a residency, externship, or scheduling clinical hours, work at a location that will give you specific experience with older patients.
For those who are unfamiliar, GNPs have unique responsibilities, sometimes beyond what is usually expected. The job can range from assisting older patients with insurance to assuaging patient and family fears. Also the nurse practitioner is often the first person to explain which treatments are necessary and which are not. Many older folks need help navigating complicated medical terminology and if they have no family to help them, need someone to advocate on their behalf for the best care possible. Beyond these seemingly abstract tasks, a GNPs skill-set can be broken down as follows:
First and foremost, Patient Care
Treatment Planning with patients and family
Patient and Family Education
Mental Health Care organization
Long-Term Care assistance
Depending on the clinical setting of where you’re working, the expectations and skill requirements change. For instance, a GNP working in a an assisted living facility will have different duties than a GNP working in a hospital. A nurse practitioners stationed solely in a long-term care facility sees their patients every day, allowing for long-term, detailed observations. Also, the daily contact allows the practitioner to build strong relationships with patients and families alike. In many long-term care facilities, GNPs are thrust into the role of primary care provider. They are expected to perform many of the same duties as a doctor; coordinating care and collaboration between generalists, gerontologists, specialists, social workers, therapists, and other nursing staff. GNPs are expected to prescribe tests and interpret the results, diagnose illnesses, prescribe medication, and offer through council to those they deal with.
If such comprehensive care sounds daunting, there are other places to practice. Need is also high for GNPs in outpatient clinics, palliative/hospice care groups, home health agencies, and always for private practice. America’s healthcare system needs nurses ready to address the dynamic needs of our ever-increasing senior population. As can be expected with any nursing specialty, the job is sure to be overwhelming at times, but it can also be immensely gratifying. Working with people from diverse demographics while also tackling a major healthcare gap is a uniquely rewarding opportunity.
Max Gottlieb works with Senior Planning, a one-stop shop for all eldercare needs. Senior Planning offers free services as well as vastly reduced-price legal services for veterans or those in need of benefits to afford the care they need.