If you’re looking for a specialty in which you can make a difference, have great career opportunities and be at the forefront of health care trends — think geriatrics.
No longer seen as a “lower-skilled and knowledge-poor” specialty, geriatric care is becoming one of the most evidence-rich areas of practice, said Karen Anne Wolf, Ph.D., RN, ANP-BC, FNA, associate professor at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. She believes those with the knowledge and expertise to care for the elderly will not only be on the cutting edge of health care, but also in high demand.
An aging population is driving the need. By 2030, about 70 million Americans — or one out of five — will be 65 or older, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. Elderly patients are now the largest group of people that need health care. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, older adults make up about 50 percent of all hospital admissions, 80 percent of home care visits and 90 percent of long-term care residents.
Health care experts expect a greater demand for geriatric clinical nurse specialists and geriatric nurse practitioners in the future.
Regardless of the specialty (oncology, emergency care, intensive care, neurology, psychology or hospice) or setting, almost all nursing and allied health care professionals will treat geriatric patients and would benefit from a better understanding of their needs.
Fortunately, resources are growing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a gerontological certification exam for registered nurses and one for advanced practice nurses. There’s also a free online course offered through the John A. Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing.
Hospitals such as Wesley Woods Hospital of Emory Healthcare offer gerontology review courses each year to nurses who would like to become geriatric-certified.
“The American Physical Therapy Association tracks the trends, new research and offers a certification in geriatrics,” said Kendra Guthrie, DPT, area manager at Heritage Healthcare. “With so much new research, therapists need to keep acquiring new skills and knowledge. If you don’t expose yourself to that, you’re doing a disservice to your career.”
The Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing has created NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders), a program of organizational tools to help hospitals improve the care of older adults.
“We heard about this program at a conference last year, and we want to bring it to Wesley Woods and, perhaps, the whole Emory Healthcare System,” said Betty Mace, RN-BC, MSN/MHA, director of nursing administration at Wesley Woods Hospital.
Another resource is a Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing website (www.ConsultGeriRN.org) that covers evidence-based assessment tools, practice protocols and information on relevant geriatric care topics such as dementia, eating issues and skin integrity.
“We have to stay focused and up on everything, because things are changing so fast in this field,” Mace said.
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