From the time I began my nursing career, I knew that I would work in Geriatrics. When expressing this to many of my friends, colleagues and even professors I received the astounding response “Why?”. Many nurses I meet have a goal of working in Pediatrics or OB so that they can be a part of the innocence and beauty associated with childhood, but many view geriatrics as the unglamorous world of bedpans and adult briefs! When I am tasked with answering the questioning of my field choice I immediately begin expressing how I possess a deeply rooted passion for the geriatric population that sometimes can’t be explained by words
As a child, I was raised by my Great Grandmother. The generational gap between us presented many problems and I probably wasn’t participating in some of the same after school and weekend activities as my peers. My great grandmother is a true saint spent most of her time visiting nursing homes to volunteer and visit her family members and friends that were in facilities. During this time I had the opportunity to volunteer as well. Although I was a small child, I connected with the residents in the homes we visited and they took to me and enjoyed my weekly visits. I can truly say that this experience led me to where I am now. As my great grandmother grew older I eventually had to move with my mom and I then found myself visiting my grandmother to take care of her. Just as she had dedicated her life to helping others I found that I became passionate about caring for her. Up until her recent death I vowed to make her golden years her best years.
Today I am proud to say that I have dedicated most of my nursing career to geriatrics. Right out of high school I became a Certified Nursing Assistant and worked in a nursing home as well as a Geriatric Psychiatry Unit. After graduating from nursing school my professors advised me to spend at least one year in the Emergency Department so that I can gain skills to prepare me for my Geriatric career. I literally completed one year and then began working in the Home Health setting where my clients were all 65 and older. I enjoyed educating seniors about chronic conditions and each visit felt like a visit to Grandmas! Recently, I completed my Masters and became an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (NP). I currently work in a long term care facility in the specialty of Geriatric Psychiatry. I provide medication management of psychotropic drugs to the residents there. I also educate the staff in the facility on non-pharmacological methods for handling conditions such as dementia. I work tirelessly to ensure that the facility is in compliance with current Medicare Guidelines and prepare them for visits with state agencies. Not a moment goes by that I don’t feel like I am walking in my purpose!
Geriatrics is a field that often is forgotten and I must say I do not see how! I find my job to be very rewarding and I often feel connected to the patients I serve. The benefits of working with this population are vast. There is a true need for those passionate about working with this very vulnerable population. There is always an opportunity to teach these patients, but what is most rewarding is that they often teach you! I find that my patients are at a place in there lives where they may require assistance with care, but their wisdom simply amazes me.
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners reports that, “there are more than 270,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) licensed in the U.S., however, only 1.8% of those providers are certified in Geriatrics (2018 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey).
These figures are very alarming considering that, “one in 5 Americans will be eligible for Medicare by 2030, with people 65 and older expected to account for almost 20 percent of the nation’s population by then” (Magaly Olivero, 2015). Equipped with this information, I feel that there is a need to access the reasons that providers do not choose Geriatrics. Wether it is related to a lack of knowledge about the field that is not being addressed in nursing programs or a fear of the field that also needs to be addressed through clinical rotations or patient experience opportunities, we as providers owe it to these individuals to address the need.
As with any field, you have to find the area that most interests you, but I encourage anyone that finds geriatrics the least bit interesting to investigate a career in the field! If you are looking for something that is challenging and structured this is a great fit. The field is mostly preventative and if you are like me and love the aspect of preventing health conditions you will find yourself constantly educating, patients, staff and family members and working to connect your patients with the many resources available to them. Another bonus is that you can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, home health, long term care facilities, assisted living, nonprofit organizations and so on. There is currently a huge demand for geriatric providers and I can guarantee that working in the field will not only be a career reward but also a personal one that will inspire the values of humility and advocacy.
Breonna Leon is a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner in the Atlanta Area who currently serves as a consultant for long term care facilities in the specialty of Geriatric Psychiatry. She holds a M.S. in Adult-Gerontology Primary Care from George Washington University. Breonnabelieves in providing care that is both patient focused and in accordance with the most recent evidence based practice. She works tirelessly to ensure that this vulnerable population is cared for in ways that are holistic in nature. You can find Breonna on Instagram and reach her via email