Geriatric Nursing Degrees: Master's, Certification & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree or certification in geriatric nursing? Find out degree program and certification requirements, online options and info on courses and geriatric nursing master's programs and certifications.
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Studying Geriatric Nursing: Master's Degrees and Certifications at a Glance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurse jobs were expected to grow 26% from 2010-2020, which was faster than the average for all occupations. Geriatric nursing opportunities should be solid due to an increasing emphasis on preventive care and growth in the aging population. Master's degree programs in geriatric nursing address advanced nursing training. Geriatric nurses assist older adults with health promotion, illness prevention and developmental needs. You might explore health issues facing older adults, including dementia, nutrition, skin care, incontinence, functional independence and quality-of-life.

Certifications are available through organizations like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), an independent organization serving the nursing profession. A geriatric nursing certification shows employers that you have skills in this particular area of nursing. Postgraduate certificate programs are designed to give you specialized training in geriatric nursing after you have obtained a master's degree.

Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to specialize in geriatric nursing and become a geriatric nurse practitioner and/or position themselves for a doctoral program
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Geriatric staff nurse - RN ($60,000)*
- Clinical nurse specialist - home care ($66,000)*
- Nurse practitioner - nursing home ($73,000)*
- Clinical nurse specialist ($90,000)*
- Nurse practitioner ($91,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 30-40 credits with bachelor's in nursing; potentially more if bachelor's is in another subject area
- Clinical and practicum work
Prerequisites - Usually requires a bachelor's degree; combined bachelor's and master's programs may be available
- May require nursing experience, depends on program
Online Availability Online and blended coursework and degree programs available

Source: * (August 2012 figures).

Master's in Geriatric Nursing

With a master's degree in geriatric nursing, you could work in hospitals, urgent or primary care settings, long-term care facilities and private practices. A master's degree could also pave the way to a clinical or research doctorate program in nursing. Programs usually contain a mix of courses and clinical hours. If you're employed as a nurse serving geriatric patients, your program may credit some of your on-the-job hours toward your clinical requirements.

Schools offering geriatric nursing master's programs may assume that candidates will take ANCC's gerontology clinical nurse specialist or one of three gerontology-related nurse practitioner (NP) certification examinations upon graduation, so you'll probably take courses and clinical practica that align with certain certification requirements. These professional certifications are not to be confused with geriatric nursing-related certificates offered by academic institutions. For example, an RN with experience in another area who wants to also qualify for geriatric nursing might be interested in a certificate program, rather than a certification.

Pros and Cons


  • May be eligible to take ANCC certification examinations after completion of required clinical hours
  • Preparation for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Ph.D. programs
  • Can prepare you for supervisory or management opportunities
  • Many of the positions that require this degree were projected to see faster-than-average growth (registered nurses were expected to see a 26% increase in jobs from 2010-2020)*


  • Substantial time commitment for people who are already employed (significant number of clinical hours may be required on top of your current job)
  • Some supervisory positions may be attainable with less education
  • You may spend over 6 years in school (about 4 years to obtain a bachelor's degree and another 2 years for a master's degree)
  • Certifying organizations may require you to complete a specific accredited program, limiting your options if you hope to obtain certification after you graduate

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

Exact degree programs requirements may depend on your background, especially if you don't have a bachelor's degree in nursing. If you have a degree in a different field, you may have to complete some additional prerequisite courses before you can begin your graduate coursework. You'll probably take some quantitative and research-based core courses to begin the program. Typical programs may range from 30-45 credit hours and require 500-600 clinical hours. Additional specializations or subspecialty tracks, like cardiology or flight nursing, may require more coursework and clinical hours. Here are some courses you might take:

  • Advanced nursing practice
  • Data management and analysis
  • Nursing research in advanced practice
  • Physiology and pathophysiology
  • Negotiating health care systems
  • Pharmacology

Online Courses

Nursing requires you to continue your education for maintaining certifications at any level of education and experience, so schools are generally accustomed to accommodating students with convenient part-time, online or weekend courses and degree programs. Full-time master's programs are sometimes offered in a hybrid format that requires some periods of on-campus residence, but some schools offer fully online coursework. If you anticipate taking courses or your entire program via distance learning, you might want to make sure that your clinical requirements can be met at sites near your home before you enroll.

Stand Out with This Degree

You could become a student member of organizations like American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to enhance your networking options. If your school has research centers addressing geriatric issues, you may want to become involved in any ongoing research projects that you find. Dual programs that permit joint completion of multiple nurse practitioner degrees are sometimes available, which could increase the number of jobs you qualify for when you graduate. Some schools allow you to choose subspecialty options like oncology, cardiovascular or flight nursing.

If you already have a master's degree and you're interested in increasing your knowledge, then you may want to consider a postsecondary certificate program. This type of program can qualify you for additional positions and even make you more valuable to your current employer. Certificate programs are not free, so you may want to see which new jobs you'll qualify for before you decide to continue your education.

Geriatric Nursing Certification

ANCC offers the Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist and the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner designations, among others. Clinical nurse specialist and nurse practitioner (NP) certifications for advanced practice nursing require a minimum of a master's degree. Your master's coursework may prepare you to take gerontology clinical nurse specialist or NP certification examinations, providing you also meet the clinical hour requirements.

Certification tests address domains of knowledge that includes advanced practice nursing, professional roles and independent practice within the adult-older adult aging spectrum. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care NPs have skills in assessing acute, critical and chronically ill patients for instability and risk for life-threatening conditions in adults. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care certification holders are able to conduct physical examinations to identify differences between normal physiology and pathology across all adult development and life stages. The Gerontological Nurse Practitioner designation is a primary care certification requiring a degree from an accredited nurse practitioner program.

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