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Gerontological Nursing – Answering Challenges with Opportunity

September 2012

As the number of older Americans increases, more people will be diagnosed with chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, and the demand for specialized nurses will continue to rise. This increased demand is further complicated by a steady decline in the number of geriatricians – physicians who specialize in the care of older patients. Because of this, nurses are increasingly being summoned to fill the void in clinics and rehabilitation centers across the country.

According to Amy Cotton, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, GNP-BC, FNGNA and President of the National Gerontological Nursing Association (NGNA), gerontological nursing is a challenging field, but there are many reasons nurses should consider entering the specialty. “With innovation, the Affordable Care Act and the overall reinvention of our healthcare delivery system, gerontology nurses have a unique opportunity to play a role in shaping how care is delivered,” said Cotton. “In terms of opportunities to truly influence healthcare policy, nurses who choose gerontology will be able to truly make a difference.”

Extensive training ensures that gerontological nurses are well-prepared to address the unique needs of older patients. In fact, according to Susan Carlson, MSN, RN, ACNS-BC, GNP-BC, FNGNA and former President of NGNA, training is at the heart of delivering effective care for older adults.

“As gerontological nurses, we are not only charged with treating illness – we must work to ensure our patients live a high-quality life despite health challenges,” said Carlson. “I once had a patient who was a World War II veteran, and because of my training, I was able to identify his unique needs and provide much better care than he may have otherwise received.”

For student nurses preparing to enter the workforce, Cotton believes gerontology is an excellent specialty to choose. “Healthcare facilities are constantly looking for nursing experts in the field of gerontology as they begin figuring out how to transfer care away from the hospitals and nursing homes into settings that are more beneficial to patients’ quality of life, such as continuing care retirement and assisted living communities, which are becoming increasingly popular,” said Cotton. “Certainly with the growing demographics of the aging population all across the world, the specialty of gerontological nursing has risen to an elevated status that I haven’t seen in my 25-year career.”

For prospective nursing students, there are scholarship opportunities for those interested in pursuing gerontology. The National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence, launched in 2000 by the John A. Hartford Foundation (JAHF) in partnership with the American Academy of Nursing, works to recruit and prepare nurses to become leaders in gerontology. Since the program began, JAHF has given awards totaling nearly $30 million to support students and the programs that sustain them, and BAGNC alumni have received over $72 million in grants related to the care of older adults, according to a Hartford Geriatric Nursing Initiative Evaluation Brief.

For more information on becoming a gerontological nurse, visit For more information on the National Hartford Centers of Gerontological Nursing Excellence, visit

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