Gerontology Nurse Practitioner: Who Are They and What Do They Do?

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Last Updated: Jun 30, 2022

The US, and indeed, the world, is experiencing a chronic nursing crisis. Fewer people are filling this sophisticated medical professional role due in part to budget cuts or a lack of professionals who can train them.

As a result, nursing is one of, if not the most, in-demand skill set, and it doesn’t matter what kind of nurse you are. There are shortages across the entire spectrum, meaning that it is the best time to train as a nurse practitioner in whichever field you want to.

Were you aware that you can train as a nurse practitioner who specializes in caring for the aging population? You may not have heard of this role. As clinically, these nurses are known as adult-gerontology nurse practitioners, and as the name suggests, they typically specialize in aging health, which can be very complicated. And is often overlooked in the medical field by mainstream professionals. Their scope of expertise often extends from adolescence to elderly care too. If you want to make a difference in people’s and the lives of adults, both young and old, then this may be the role for you.

With that in mind, what are the duties of an adult-gerontology nurse? And what does the training for this role look like?

What is an adult-gerontology nurse?

An AGNP (adult gerontology nurse practitioner) is a registered nurse who is of an advanced status. They have a specialty in treating older patients, though they treat patients from their adolescent years all the way through to the later stages of life.

To be an AGNP, you need to have an AGPCNP. This role allows them to work with a broad range of patient populations. They can work in hospitals or in private practice, r they may work in treatment centers. They can also operate their own practices, and generally speaking, they have more independence than a standard registered nurse (RN).

Also, unlike a general RN, an AGNP can prescribe medications. They can also order diagnostic tests as well as analyze them. So, they can help in the diagnostic process of identifying illnesses, as well as helping to devise the treatment plan, making them able to perform a similar role as most general doctors.

Interestingly, there are 2 separate types of AGNPs.

Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

This is a role abbreviated to AG-ACNP, and as the name suggests, this type of nurse works with patients who are acutely ill. They can often work in trauma wards, or in places like an ER. They can be found working in critical care wards, and they can also work in surgical wards. 

As mentioned before, they have the ability to diagnose and treat serious conditions. Which can speed up the diagnostic process, which has a better outcome for patients.

Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner

An adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner (or AG-PCNP) works in the primary sector. So, they are more likely to be found in a community-based setting. Treating the health issues that adults may present with. This is a role that involves more patient interaction and has an educational aspect to it, such as educating patients on healthy lifestyles, preventing illnesses, and of course, managing long-term health issues. An AG-PCNP can be found working in doctors’ surgeries and health clinics, as well as working out in the community visiting homes, and working in nursing homes.

Qualifications Needed To Become an Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

An AGNP is an advanced nursing role. So, if you are eager to train in this area, you will need to have a standard registered nurse or RN license.

You can choose to earn a Ph.D. in nursing, but many nurses who want to train as an AGNP can take a master’s degree in their chosen area, paving the way for the AGNP qualification.

Most AGNP’s are required to undertake a registered certification to practice as a nurse practitioner. This is usually offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. The latter offers the qualifications in either primary care or acute care.

Roles And Duties of An Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner

As mentioned before, the roles and duties of an AGNP will vary based on the setting that they are working in.

However, irrespective of where they are placed, their underlying roles are somewhat similar.

  • They will be responsible for looking through a patient’s history. This is a key part of diagnostics and helps the medical team identify potential issues, such as an allergy to certain medications.
  • There is a key area in this role focused on diagnostics. An AGNP will assess symptoms that a patient is presenting with, which can then be sued by doctors to make a diagnosis and help with the overall treatment of the illness.

In relation to medication, an AGNP may be able to take the role of a doctor, but this will vary based on the state and, of course, their own certification levels.

  • An AGNP will be able to prescribe medications. As well as the dosages required and the frequency at which the medication is given. In an acute setting, this can help to speed up the treatment timeline, and it can also take pressure off of doctors and other attending medical staff.
  • An AGNP will also be responsible for monitoring and identifying side effects. As a result, they may also be held accountable if medical notes were ignored and a patient was given a medicine that they had an allergy to.

Diagnostics in the area of an AGNP are vital to the role too. As an AGNP, you need to be confident in your ability to order the appropriate tests to diagnose your patients. Or to rule out any issues.

  • An AGNP will need to be able to order the appropriate tests to diagnose the underlying issue that their patient is presenting with.
  • An AGNP will also need to be able to interpret the results of these tests and formulate a diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan. This may involve discussing these test results with their patients and their families too, which will require good communication skills.
  • An AGNP will also need to be able to medically justify why certain tests were ordered.

Education is a key aspect of the role of a primary AGNP. They will have to be prepared and able to communicate complex information to their patient using jargon-free language.

  • An AG-PNCP will be required to communicate with patients effectively about illnesses that they may have been diagnosed with. They will also need to be able to answer questions and monitor the symptoms that their patients may present with.
  • In an outpatient setting, an AG-PNCP will be responsible for tracking the side effects of the medications that have been prescribed. As well as ensuring that the correct dosages are being taken by the patient.

Treatment plans are also a key part of the job of an AGNP. So, they will need to work with other medical staff to devise them in acute settings. In primary settings, this role will be collaboratively carried out with the patients themselves.

  • Treatment plans need to be flexible and adaptive, as the patient may want to change certain parts or the patient may experience unwanted side effects of the medication. Their condition may also deteriorate due to the chronic aspect of the disorder that they have. So, an AGNP will need to be able to change treatment plans quickly and effectively, helping to increase the patients’ quality of life.

The Future of Healthcare

If the pandemic of 2020 highlighted anything, it is that there are not enough registered nurses overall, let alone nurse practitioners.

In the US, this is the area that has the highest predicted growth over the next 5-10 years. Advanced nurse practitioners are in the highest demand and expect to see a 26% increase between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than any other occupation in the US. However, this is due to an overall higher number of aging individuals, but for AGNP’s, it is also due to a growing population overall.

Final Thoughts

Becoming a nurse practitioner is usually the next natural step for most registered nurses. The role of an AGNP is one that demands high respect, and it is also a senior role. This means you will have a higher authority than other nurses and healthcare professionals that you may be working with.

It also requires you to have more confidence in your abilities to practice medicine. You will be required to monitor different aspects of the patients you are caring for, prescribe medication, know which medications are appropriate, and choose diagnostic tests. Many of these responsibilities will put you on par with doctors. This can be intimidating at first, but if you are ready to take on a more advanced role and enhance your career, then it may be time to begin searching for a university that can offer the required training to become an AGNP.

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