Smiling nurse with an elderly patient

How to Become a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Smiling nurse with an elderly patient

Healthcare professionals that work with elderly patients often describe how enjoyable it is to hear stories from people who have seen the entire world change within their lifetimes—and how rewarding it is to be a part of improving their quality of life. If you’ve enjoyed volunteering at nursing homes or just like the idea of helping people maintain their independence, a career as a gerontology nurse practitioner (also known as a GNP) can be highly fulfilling and also relatively well-paying! In fact, we recently featured gerontology nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a gerontology nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a gerontology nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the highest paid nursing jobs.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Definition

What is a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

Gerontology nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) that provide older patients with wide-ranging medical care. GNPs have a great deal of independence, as they can prescribe medications, order diagnostic tests, and administer other treatments traditionally reserved for physicians.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Do?

Gerontology nurse practitioners specialize in two main areas: acute care and primary care. Primary care GNPs tend to focus primarily on preventative medicine, education, and managing chronic conditions. Acute care GNPs deal more with diagnosing and treating sudden injuries or illnesses. However, all gerontology nurse practitioners have the training and expertise to deal with both emergency and non-emergency medical care for elderly patients.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of gerontology nurse practitioners include:

  • Performing routine or emergency patient examinations
  • Listening to patients and understanding their concerns
  • Prescribing medications for a variety of illnesses and ailments
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
  • Educating patients on nutrition, managing health conditions, and overall healthy living

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Skills

Gerontology nurse practitioners must have advanced medical knowledge and problem-solving skills, as elderly patients often have multiple health conditions or take several medications that can all interact with one another. Like any other nursing specialty, careful attention to detail is absolutely critical in avoiding complications and ensuring positive patient outcomes. Listening and communication skills are equally important, as making your patients feel heard and validated is an important part of providing top-notch medical care.

Female nurse assisting an elderly patient

Where Do Gerontology Nurse Practitioners Work?

Gerontology nurse practitioners can find employment anywhere elderly patients receive care. Oftentimes, that’s in nursing homes, retirement communities, or memory-care facilities, though you’ll also find GNPs working in plenty of regular hospitals and outpatient clinics. Even at facilities that don’t specifically focus on treating older patients, there’s significant value in having highly-trained healthcare providers who understand the unique challenges and considerations of treating the elderly.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a gerontology nurse practitioner will require several years of investment into your education and building the necessary work experience, but there’s no doubt the rewards are worth it. Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Gerontology nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re able to practice independently.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a gerontology nurse practitioner is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a gerontology nurse practitioner:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your gerontology nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. While nursing school can certainly be challenging at times, nearly anyone can become a registered nurse if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any of the other top nursing specialties, your career as a gerontology nurse practitioner starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not be directly related to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better communicator and critical thinker, improving your bedside manner and problem-solving skills once you’re working as a gerontology nurse practitioner.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess patients and best care for all different patient groups, including the elderly patients you’ll treat as a GNP. Others will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and take classes focused on improving your evidence-based decision-making, which will help you make sound decisions once you’re working as a gerontology nurse practitioner.

Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. A well-rounded knowledge of medicine will be essential in decoding some of the multilayered issues common in geriatric patients.

The last step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in an actual healthcare facility. While your nursing program will involve plenty of simulated treatment scenarios, there’s no substitute for real-world experience where your actions make an impact on real patients’ health. Building your skills and confidence in a clinical setting will be essential to your future career as a gerontology nurse practitioner since you’ll often be working with little direct supervision.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one with a proven track record of supporting their students after graduation. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even walked the stage at graduation!

Woman in headphones on a laptop

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before you can become a gerontology nurse practitioner, you’ll need to get licensed as a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the correct answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. If you usually get nervous on test day, don’t stress—you’ll be well-prepared after completing your BSN program, and practice exams are widely available for you to get familiar with the format before it’s time to take the real thing.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which gives you the flexibility to take your skills just about anywhere. Any RN experience will be valuable, though for a future career as a gerontology nurse practitioner, you’ll likely want to seek out employment somewhere you’ll gain experience caring for elderly patients. That may mean looking for work at a nursing home or retirement community or on a team within a hospital or outpatient clinic specializing in gerontological medicine.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs, you should be able to keep your license current without any trouble.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Like all advanced practice registered nurses, gerontology nurse practitioners must complete a postgraduate nursing degree, almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many educational institutions offer MSN programs explicitly focused on gerontological nursing, which will build upon what you learned during your BSN program as well as your real-world experience.

You’ll find gerontology-focused MSN programs at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (GNP)

After completing a master’s-degree program focused on gerontological nursing, you’ll be eligible to get certified as an Adult Gerontology Nurse Practitioner by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, with a focus on either acute or primary care. This certification is valid for five years and demonstrates you’ve mastered the advanced knowledge and training required to serve as the lead healthcare provider for your patients, with minimal supervision.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Gerontology Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to Salary.com, gerontology nurse practitioners across the United States earn an average annual salary of around $96,000, which works out to over $46 per hour. GNPs among the top 10% of earners can earn a salary of $112,000 per year and up.

Gerontology Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for Gerontology Nurse Practitioners?

Due to the significant baby-boom population that’s on the cusp of entering old age, the demand for healthcare services for the elderly is expected to continue rising rapidly. While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for GNPs, the overall number of nurse practitioners is expected to skyrocket an impressive 45% by the year 2029. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs is around 4%, a career as a nurse practitioner comes with one of the best long-term job outlooks in the entire healthcare industry.

Two nursing students in front of a chalkboard

Ready to Start Your Career as a Gerontology Nurse Practitioner?

If you cherish the chance to learn from previous generations and are fulfilled by improving others’ independence and overall quality of life, becoming a gerontology nurse practitioner could be the nursing specialty you’ve been waiting to discover. As one of the highest-paid nursing specialties, it’s a chance to earn a great living—but beyond that, you’ll get the opportunity to make people’s golden years the best they can be!

Ready to get started on the road to a rewarding career as a gerontology nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!