If you’re at the stage in your nursing career where you’re considering which specialty to pursue, it’s well worth taking a look at gerontology. Working with older patients might not be the first area you consider, but it’s a highly rewarding path with numerous benefits. It’s a great choice from a career perspective, with strong salaries and lots of different working options in a growth area with strong long-term prospects. It’s also emotionally satisfying, offering good opportunities to get to know patients over the long term, observe the positive difference you’re making in their lives, and learn from them in return.
On top of all this, it offers variety and plenty of interesting challenges, so your professional skills will be fully utilized. If this sounds good to you, then read on, as this article explores these advantages in more depth.
A career spent helping people
When it comes to long-term job satisfaction, studies show that few things are as important as knowing that the work you do is useful and that it’s helping people. Even when compared with other forms of nursing, gerontology nursing is particularly rewarding in this regard. You will meet patients who have very low expectations of their remaining years, and often, you’ll be able to turn this around for them simply by helping them recognize all the things they can still do.
By introducing new techniques and technological assistance, you’ll help them recover the independence that they thought they had lost forever. You’ll show them that they’re still worthy of respect and help them to recover their dignity, with the self-esteem that accompanies it. You’ll ease their pain, reduce the burdens of disability and assuage their loneliness, making those last years feel golden after all.
Alongside older people themselves, families benefit tremendously from the intervention of gerontology nurses. You’ll give them a sense of hope, bolster their courage, and keep them from feeling that they have to cope with everything alone. You’ll give them the tools to overcome communication difficulties and repair damaged relationships. You’ll help them to build a real connection that will stay with them even after their older loved ones are gone.
No shortage of well-paid work
One of the most difficult factors involved in decision-making about further education is the need to predict which subjects are likely to make you employable in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time. In a rapidly changing society with a lot of unpredictable political, economic and technological trends, this is difficult to do. However, one thing that we can be certain of is that throughout your working life, there will be a high proportion of older people. This is just a matter of demographics.
As a consequence, you can be confident that gerontology nurses are always going to be in demand. There is, in fact, a shortage of qualified personnel in this field at present, so you should find it easy to go straight into a job once you complete your course and obtain your license.
This ease of finding employment creates a further benefit for gerontology nurses. It makes it relatively easy to move around the country, finding work wherever you need it, to fit in with your family commitments or personal ambitions. The emergence of the Nursing License Compact (NLC) has been making this much easier. Once you’re licensed in one NLC state, you can move around much more freely without delays in your ability to practice.
Being part of a caring community
One of the best things about nursing, in general, is the strong sense of camaraderie within the profession and the knowledge that colleagues will always have your back. It’s a friendly, socially supportive profession, and when you work in gerontology, that sense of community also comes to include many of the patients. This is because many older patients require long-term care or keep needing further care for new ailments.
Often, you will work with them on an ongoing basis right up until the end of their lives, and this means that you can have the opportunity to build relationships with them over the course of years. This doesn’t tend to result in the sense of cumulative loss that some outsiders worry about because, with the right support, death from old age tends to be peaceful, and in fact, nurses working in this field tend to be more at ease with it than the average person. They see their job as one of helping people on their natural journey.
With the right nursing care, navigating old age doesn’t have to be a stressful process, and it can become its own voyage of discovery. Assisting people with this is an uplifting experience, and what you learn from each patient will help you with the next.
Varied and challenging work
It’s always satisfying to have a job in which you get to make use of all your skills. Gerontology nursing presents plenty of challenges because most older patients have multiple conditions, and their interactions can complicate treatment. Doctors may be the ones working out how best to prioritize and balance medication, but it takes a skilled nurse to deal with complications around actually taking it, from memory lapses to difficulty swallowing to the need for assistance.
Closer and more frequent patient monitoring is often required, and much greater support may be needed to manage side effects. You will have to be on the top of your game to find ways of overcoming communication difficulties when dealing with patients with dementia. You will need to negotiate with them and their families to ensure that they understand what’s happening as well as possible and are able to give their consent.
When you’re working with older people, it’s never possible to rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. You will need to innovate constantly, and as a consequence, your skills will continually improve. Also, you’ll have lots of useful ideas to share with your colleagues. Many techniques and technologies now in use among the general population began with adaptations created for older people, so this is a really exciting area in which to be engaged.
A chance to connect with the past
The vast majority of people go through life having very little interaction with people outside their own generation unless they’re related. When you think about it, this gives them a very limited perspective. As a gerontology nurse, you’ll have the opportunity to draw on the life experiences of people who have known very different times and see today’s world in different ways.
You’ll hear their stories, and events from before you were born will burst into color, feeling real and relevant in a way that they never did before. You’ll have the chance to connect with the past and enrich your understanding of history, helping you to put present-day events in context.
As well as getting to speak with people who lived through some amazing, world-changing events about their memories of what happened, you’ll learn about their personal stories, often filtered through the wisdom they have gained over time. This could give you insights that will help in your own life, and it will let you discover aspects of life in the past that history books never mention.
You’ll hear people’s love stories, learn how they overcame barriers, and become acquainted with their secret joys. There’s an intimacy to this kind of nursing that is rarely found elsewhere. It will enhance your empathy and give you a renewed appreciation of the world around you.
A flexible work environment
There are lots of different contexts in which you can work as a nurse, especially when your focus is on caring for older people. This includes working in a hospital or clinic, supporting inpatients, and working as a community nurse, visiting older people in their homes.
You could work in a nursing home, where you get to know the same family of people over time, or you could provide care for a single individual in a family home. Organizations and communities focused on older people, such as retirement villages, often employ in-house nurses to handle routine testing and provide care to the people with whom they work.
The majority of gerontology nursing roles involve shift work, giving you some flexibility as to the hours you work. This makes it a good choice for single parents and other people with additional life commitments. In larger workplaces, the possibility of shift swapping makes this even easier, as long as you’re willing to help out colleagues from time to time in return.
A fascinating subject to study
Scientifically, we are only in the early stages of understanding the aging process, how and why it happens, and how we can mitigate the damage it does. Nurses have a lot to contribute to the process of expanding knowledge, both by participating in clinical trials and by developing knowledge based on observations over time. It’s thanks in part to this kind of work that we are now living longer on average and enjoying good health and an active life for much more of that time.
All this means that it’s a fascinating time to study gerontology nursing and start your own learning journey in this rapidly developing area.
Through Wilkes University’s AGPCNP Certification program, you’ll be able to take your theory classes online and benefit from the support of a dedicated mentor. You’ll be able to find an institution that’s convenient to your location where you can satisfy the practical requirements of the course and complete the whole process in just 15 months. This means that you can get the benefit of a specialized education in the subject, delivered by experts. It also means that you’ll have the chance to socialize online with fellow students, sharing the knowledge you pick up within different healthcare environments.
Ultimately, most people have an interest in the advancement of high-quality care for older people because we are all – at least if we’re lucky – going to be in that position ourselves one day. By working hard and paying attention as a gerontology nurse, you’ll be able to gather information that you could well benefit from personally in due course.
You’ll also be able to feed it through to academics who will influence future nursing policy or even go on to undertake research of your own. You’ll also help to set the standards against which the quality of future care will be judged, as each generation expects to receive care at least as good as that provided to the one before.
Gerontology nursing is a constantly evolving profession in which there is an ongoing effort to identify examples of best practices and carry them forward. Innovation can take place at any level, and nurses who read journals and involve themselves in ongoing discussions of theory after graduation are well-placed to contribute. What’s more, if you’re known to have done so, even just locally, you can bet that the next generation of nurses will take extra special care of you.
With all of this in mind, the rewards of a career in gerontology nursing are considerable. You’ll have lots of opportunities, good wages and benefits, and a great deal of freedom to move around and explore a different working environment. You’ll also have a real chance to make a difference in people’s lives and help them get as much as possible out of their final years.