The U.S. Census Bureau expects seniors (those aged 65 and over) to reach a population of 84 million by 2050. This will nearly double the current U.S. senior population of 45 million. The aging of the Baby Boom generation will power much of this demographic shift. Since seniors account for roughly half of all hospital admissions, the demand for qualified geriatric nurses will increase significantly.

So what exactly does a geriatric nurse do? These specialty RNs work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to treat injuries, illnesses, and conditions that commonly occur in older adults. Geriatric nurses operate medical equipment, perform diagnostic tests, analyze results, observe patients, and record their observations. Also known as gerontology or gerontological nursing, the position requires excellent communication, organizational skills, and critical thinking, as well as compassion, physical stamina, and emotional stability. Like RNs in other specialty areas, geriatric nurses must be detail-oriented to ensure patients receive the correct treatments and medicines on time.

Geriatric nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, psychiatric institutions, and other healthcare environments. They educate older adults and their families about health and preventative care to promote high levels of functioning, support healthy aging, and enhance patient quality of life.

The first step for an aspiring geriatric nurse is licensure as a registered nurse (RN). To become a registered nurse, one must complete a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or registered nursing diploma program. After completing her studies, a graduate must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is mandatory for licensure in all states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

During the RN program, an aspiring geriatric nurse should take electives that highlight the care of older adults. She can also select externships that provide first-hand exposure to older adults. After graduation, a newly minted RN must spend two years working with older adults before she can sit for the certification exam to earn the RN-BC (Registered Nurse-Board Certified) credential in gerontological nursing. While this credential is not state-mandated, many employers prefer to hire certified geriatric nurses.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects RN employment growth of 19 percent over the next decade, significantly higher than the average growth rate for all occupations. Salaries for RNs, including geriatric nurses, are on the rise as well. In 2009, the average RN salary was $62,450. Today, RNs earn around $66,000 per year, and high-performing RNs can earn more than $80,000 per year.

A successful career as a certified geriatric nurse begins with a top-notch RN program. There are literally thousands of prelicensure nursing programs available at colleges, universities, and hospitals across the country. Use our directory to find the best schools in your local area.