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What is a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner?

A geriatric nurse practitioner provides expert care, treatment, and counseling for elderly patients. A professional conducts diagnostic tests, checks vital signs, and assists doctors in treatment procedures for a variety of medical conditions. In addition, a geriatric nurse practitioner might help a patient engage in physical therapy exercises and educate family members about their loved one's situation. Most nurses are employed by general hospitals and nursing homes, though some professionals work in specialty clinics, private doctor's offices, and home health care companies.

Doctors and nurses who care for elderly patients face unique challenges. Due to bone and immune system weakening that often accompanies aging, an older patient is more susceptible to traumatic falls and debilitating illnesses. In addition, patients may have cognitive difficulties that result from disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, which can create additional difficulties for care providers. A geriatric nurse practitioner understands the problems faced by older patients and tailors treatment to their specific needs.

A geriatric nurse practitioner who works in a hospital or clinic is often responsible for performing initial patient evaluations, aiding in diagnostic tests, and helping doctors determine the best treatment options. He or she helps patients dress, bathe, eat, and move around. A nurse practitioner may be responsible for designing an exercise routine for a recovering patient or explaining the details and prognosis of an illness. When friends or family members have concerns, the practitioner typically can provide expert counseling to help them cope with difficult circumstances.

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Many geriatric nurse practitioners work exclusively with patients who are diagnosed with specific conditions. For example, a practitioner may specialize by caring for people with cancer, terminal illnesses, broken bones, or osteoporosis. A specialist is able to employ his or her extensive knowledge of disease and aging to ensure patients receive the best possible care for their delicate conditions.

Depending on the specific work setting, a geriatric nurse practitioner may be qualified to make diagnoses and prescribe medications without having to consult with a physician first. Many professionals who work in nursing homes and home health care settings are the final authority in the care and management of clients. They work directly with patients and supervise other nursing specialists to ensure quality care.

A master's degree in nursing is required to become a geriatric nurse practitioner in most regions and countries. In addition to a earning degree, a new nurse usually needs to complete a practical internship program and pass a series of licensing examinations before working independently. Many experienced nurse practitioners choose to take up administrative positions or become part-time university professors.

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