As life expectancy continues to rise in the U.S. and older adults need continuous care for chronic conditions, experts in the field of geriatric nursing say the demand for qualified health workers is surging. Their fear is that not enough nursing students are entering the field.

“Sadly, nursing schools are not turning out nurses prepared with geriatric nursing care knowledge,” said Ethel L. Mitty, EdD, RN, of the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing in the College of Nursing at New York University. “In this sense the field is wide open for employment opportunities.”

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurses working in nursing care facilities can expect a 20 percent employment increase, and about 25% of patients aged 75 years and older have five or more chronic illnesses, which makes managing their condition challenging.

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Geriatric nurses are registered nurses who have completed specialized training or certification in geriatric care or who have an advanced gerontological nursing degree. They typically work in assisted living facilities, nursing homes and sometimes in hospital settings focusing their efforts on implementing treatment plans for aging adults with chronic illness such as diabetes, hypertension and respiratory disorders.

Students thinking of pursuing geriatric nursing should like working with older people, and should be compassionate and able to communicate with family members and other health care provider, according to Mitty. She also added that the field lends itself to independent workers, as most geriatric nurses work alone.

In the American Geriatrics Society’s career guide, David Solomon, MD, the former director of the UCLA School of Medicine’s Center on Aging, called this field of medicine “the most challenging and exciting area of patient care.”

“The patients are the most ill, most complex and the most dependent on our skills and wisdom for their persistence as independent living people,” he wrote.

Heather Kempskie is a freelance medical writer.