Gerontology is the study both of aging and the health problems that can come with it: such problems range from the physical and physiological to the psychological.

According to the U.S. Census, by 2029 the baby boomer generation will be over 65 years old and represent more than 20 percent of the entire population. As such, there exists an ever-increasing demand for nurse practitioners with specialized knowledge regarding elderly patient care.

With older patients, care tends to encompass areas such as pain relief, hygiene assistance, and weakness that stem from physical ailments, such as lower bone density. Monitoring mental health issues is also a regular task for many gerontological nurses: many patients can suffer effects from Alzheimer's disease or other neurological conditions that affect cognition and memory. Regular routine assessment, evaluation, and treatment are necessary responsibilities for nurses in this field.

Another important role for gerontological nurses is to focus their efforts on the prevention of serious injury and illnesses within the elderly community. Many geriatric nurses are part of the public health community and work with other health professionals in order to deal with problems that arise in at-risk populations: these populations tend to be more susceptible to disease, as well as acute, violent trauma such as injuries from falling.

If you are interested in assisted-living care, or in helping to ensure that the elderly are able to live out comfortable, dignified, and pain-free lives, this career path may be right for you.

How Can Specialize in Gerontology?

As with any nursing specialization, a Master’s degree is generally required in order for you to practice as a certified Geriatric Nurse. Nursing students or RNs who choose to specialize in gerontological studies can typically choose from one of two specialty credentials:

  • Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP), and
  • Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP)

Both Adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioners (AG-ACNPs) and adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioners (AG-PCNPs) require Master’s degrees from accredited institutions. While both paths have much in common, there are some key educational, clinical, and environmental differences you should be acquainted with before deciding which option is right for you. The following are just a few examples:

  • As the name indicates, Acute Care Nurse Practitioners have a special set of education and skills for assessing and recommending treatments for acute conditions in adults.
  • Generally, an AG-ACNP may be more qualified for a critical care, or emergency/trauma department.
  • ACNPss frequently work in extremely sensitive situations and may have to make quick and responsible decisions under pressure. While PCNPs must also make important decisions regarding their patient care, they rarely work directly with victims of violent trauma.

What Can I Expect from an MSN With a Specialization in Gerontology?

An MSN specialization in Gerontology is designed to prepare nursing students for a career in providing care to all patients at all stages of life, but especially senior patients. In addition to the necessary technical knowledge and skills, pursuing an MSN in Gerontology can provide you with advanced leadership skills, improved clinical judgment, and important critical thinking and communication skills. It can equip you with important skills in health promotion and disease prevention. This is a route to consider for nurses who want to advance health and well-being for individual adults and community populations.

As such, coursework in an MSN in Gerontology covers not just the science of dealing with aging patient care, but also the various ethical, psychological, and administrative issues that future practitioners are likely to experience in their career. Some typical courses may include the following:

Applied Gerontology

This course may be among the first along a potential practitioner’s development in the field of gerontology. Students learn the history and principles of gerontology, and they are exposed to some of the field’s theoretical models, which will serve them to understand the real-world applications of their degree.

Assisted Living Administration

Students of this course or similar courses generally learn the history of Assisted Living in the U.S. They also become acquainted with the fundamentals of administering a long-term care environment. These courses aim to impart valuable leadership and management skills concerning the management of patient care for an elderly population.

Aging and Dementia

Candidates for an MSN in Gerontology must be aware of the fact that their line of work frequently engages with patients who suffer from varying degrees of dementia. As such, this and similar courses aim to teach students about the impacts of mental degenerative diseases, as well as the common social and economic effects associated with them. Students may gain direct experience working with patients who are suffering from dementia, as well as their families and/or caregivers.

The typical time it takes for a full-time student to complete an MSN in Gerontology is around two years. Many graduate programs require between 40- and 50-course hours, as well as additional clinical hours. After completion of a graduate program, nurses can undergo pre-certificate training to prepare for their certification exams (see below).

Admission Requirements to an MSN program

MSN programs across the nation differ markedly with regards to specializations and research emphasis. A completed Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university is generally required to gain admission to an accredited nursing graduate program.

Many Master’s programs typically require the candidate to have completed general coursework in statistics, psychology, biology, and chemistry, and to have a minimum GPA and GRE test scores. Check with the websites of the institutions that interest you to find their specific prerequisites for admission.

How Much Does an Online MSN in Gerontology Cost?

Like any Masters program, costs may vary greatly from university to university and can depend on whether or not you qualify for in-state tuition. The following have been rated among the best online MSN specializations in Gerontology with respect to value and academic level: their prices may be indicative of the general cost of coursework, but you should be sure to investigate any institution that interests you specifically, as well as any financial aid packages they may offer.

University of Texas Medical Branch

$22,408 total in-state; $39,754 total out-of-state – 49 credit hours (minimal campus visitation)

University of Southern Indiana

$19,706.40 in-state; $34,475.55 out-of-state – 45 credit hours (ranked #36 online graduate nursing program in the nation)

East Carolina University

$14,429 (in-state); $42,817 (out-of-state) – 47 credit hours (their entire graduate nursing program is rated #18 in the nation)

Even with online coursework, where you are located can play a key role in which university you can complete your degree: keep in mind that some universities may allow you to complete practicums near your home, while others may require you to visit their campus on a more regular basis.

At any rate, it’s important that the program you choose meets educational standards set by independent accreditation organizations, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN).

Can I Get Additional Certification?

Most employers generally require that you obtain an Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification (AGCNS-BC) by testing with the American Nurses Credential Center: this accreditation can also serve as a boon to your resume and a verification of your knowledge and skills.

Prospective candidates for this examination need no less than two years of clinical experience and 2000 hours of experience in geriatrics. They also need to complete 30 hours of continuing education courses in subjects that pertain to geriatrics before testing. As with most ANCC certifications, this accreditation lasts five years.

What is the Average Salary?

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track data for the specific field of Gerontological Nursing, their May 2017 report calculated the median average salary for nursing practitioners – with similar qualifications and education levels – as $103,880.

According to Nurse Journal, the average salary for gerontological nurse practitioners is between $70,000 to $90,000: keep in mind that your level of education, experience, and certifications can influence your salary.

What Does the Future of Gerontology Nursing Look Like?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for nurse practitioners with an MSN degree is projected to grow at an average rate of 31 percent in the period of 2014-2024: this growth rate is far higher than the national average.

Such a rate in employment growth, in conjunction with the aging characteristics of the American population, seem to imply that those seeking employment in the field of Gerontological Nursing are likely to find it.

With a Master’s in Gerontological Nursing, you can expect to find employment in hospitals, physician offices, outpatient and long-term care facilities. If are passionate about helping patients, especially elder patients who may require long-term nursing care and may be suffering from degenerative mental illnesses, this can prove to be a fulfilling path.