Career advice

Where can a career in older people’s care take me?

The options are wide and varied, with new roles in frailty, says specialist nurse Nicky Hayes

The options are wide and varied, with new roles in frailty, says specialist nurse Nicky Hayes

Picture: iStock

With an ageing population in the UK, there has never been a better time for nurses to develop a career in caring for older people.

Roles such as advanced nurse practitioner, frailty practitioner and clinical nurse specialist for older people are proliferating in the hospital, community and care home sectors, allowing nurses to develop their skillset.

The core nursing skills in holistic, person-centred care provide a perfect base on which to build skills in nursing older people. Undertaking a comprehensive assessment, recognising frailty and addressing complex needs provide the contemporary framework for delivering compassionate and effective care for the older adult.

What skills do I need to specialise in older people’s care?

  • A thorough understanding of the ageing process and its interplay with physical and mental health, well-being and ill health.
  • Knowledge of frailty and assessment of the older adult.
  • Interprofessional teamwork skills.
  • For advanced roles, qualifications in advanced assessment skills and independent prescribing.

How do I acquire the knowledge and skills I need?

Postgraduate study Many universities offer modules in older people’s care that can be built into recognised qualifications, such as a master’s in advanced practice. Bespoke programmes, such as the Older Person’s Fellowship 
at King’s College London, offer higher-level qualifications for nurses who already have experience in the specialty. Visit university websites to explore other options.
 If you work for an NHS care provider, enquire about what courses it would be able to fund.

Join professional organisations and networks and use online resources There are many e-learning modules available that are free or associated with publications. Conferences organised by professional organisations are an excellent way to meet experts and find out about the latest updates. The RCN has an older people’s forum, as well as many online resources on topics such as frailty, falls, delirium and supporting healthy ageing in the community, care homes and hospitals.

The RCN forum also organises joint conferences with the British Geriatrics Society, the professional body for nurses, doctors, therapists and other professionals concerned with the specialist healthcare needs of older people. Any nurse can join the society and access its resources, meetings and conferences. Its website has a wealth of resources for all healthcare professionals, including a nurses and allied health professionals council. The society also offers grants for nurses to attend conferences and seminars that will enhance their understanding of the needs of older patients; look for details
 on its website.

Care England is the leading representative body for independent care services in England. Its website has resources about caring for older people and has useful links to practical resources.

Do your research There are several relevant publications for nurses, including RCNi’s Nursing Older People journal. It is published in print and online and contains news, opinion and features, as well as a range of peer-reviewed and continuing professional development articles about caring for older people. As a subscriber to this or any other RCNi journal, you have access to resources on the RCNi website. You can use these to update your knowledge at your own pace, and they are also useful for revalidation. 

Other journals include Age and Ageing, which is available to subscribers and members of the British Geriatrics Society. It is an international journal that has peer-reviewed original articles and reviews on geriatric medicine and gerontology.

Where are my career opportunities in older people’s care?

Community care Supporting people living with frailty and long-term conditions is a mainstay of community nursing. There are now opportunities to specialise as a community matron or frailty specialist
 with a focus on older adults. Integrated teams such as those responsible for rapid response, ‘hospital at home’ and supported discharge all include nursing roles that focus on older adults.

Hospital Many NHS hospitals are developing services to focus on identification of frailty and acute management of older people with complex needs. Opportunities
 for working as a specialist in emergency departments, on wards and in peripatetic teams such as frailty teams are proliferating.

Care sector Working with older adults in care homes is a rewarding, challenging and responsible role for nurses. Care homes increasingly provide sub-acute care, and manage palliative and end of life care for older people with complex needs.


Nicky Hayes is consultant editor of Nursing Older People, and nurse consultant for older people, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London


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