Dialysis Nursing Careers
People who suffer from kidney failure depend on dialysis to do the work that their kidneys no longer can. Dialysis nurses offer patients a new lease on life by administering this life-prolonging procedure. Dialysis nurses are part of a larger specialty known as nephrology nursing, and they have an in-depth knowledge of kidney disease. They support, medicate, and monitor patients throughout dialysis as well as educate them on kidney disease and the lifestyle choices that help them to manage their disease.
Most dialysis nurses are registered nurses (RN) or advanced practice nurses (APRN) who either work within a single hospital or hold a traveling position. This rewarding profession not only offers nurses the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of patients, but also offers more regular hours and opportunities for advancement than many other nursing specialties.
Dialysis is administered in a hospital, a freestanding clinic, or a patient’s home. Dialysis nurses work in any of these settings. Working hours tend to be more regular than in many other nursing specialties—mainly because patients who need dialysis are typically on a regular schedule of daytime treatment. Nurses in hospitals, however, are often called upon to perform dialysis on an emergency basis at any time of day or night. This schedule is usually accompanied by increased pay and offers nurses a chance to provide life-saving support.
Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who want to work in a dialysis setting need to receive a diploma from an LPN education program at either a community college or vocational school. These programs require approximately 12 months of study.
To prepare as a registered nurse (RN), a degree or diploma is necessary. An associate’s degree program will require two years of study, a hospital-based diploma takes about two to three years, and a bachelor’s degree will require four years.
- Associate’s degrees are obtained at community colleges.
- Bachelor’s degrees are available at four-year colleges.
- Diplomas are earned at some U.S. hospitals in a hospital-based diploma program.
Undergraduate nursing students cannot major in dialysis. One of the best ways to become familiar with dialysis treatments as a student is to request a clinical rotation in a dialysis setting.
Nurses who want to become advanced practice nurses (APRN) in dialysis can choose either a nephrology nurse practitioner program or a nephrology clinical nurse specialist program. Both of these graduate programs are two to three years in duration and culminate in either a master’s degree or a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
Dialysis training is very technical in nature. Nurses who train in dialysis will obtain a new skillset over a period of several weeks or months depending on their nursing experience level. Before graduation, APRNs are already familiar with administering dialysis, so their training tends to be role-specific, whether it is direct patient care, education, consulting or research.
Licensing and/or Certification
Before starting work, RNs need to have licenses. Passing the NCLEX examination is a standard requirement for nursing licensure, and certain states have other conditions that need to be met.
In some states, however, LPNs do not need a license to start working in dialysis because they often have limited non-nursing roles (as dialysis technicians). In the case of APRNs, most are licensed prior to entering graduate school.
Some RNs working in dialysis choose to become certified through the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission. Some of the available certifications are: Certified Nephrology Nurse, Certified Dialysis Nurse, and Certified Nephrology Nurse Practitioner. LPNs may also be certified as Certified Clinical Hemodialysis Technicians.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Dialysis nurses must have a comprehensive knowledge of kidney disease and be able to apply this knowledge to their practice. Sophisticated technical skills are required in all types of dialysis not only to operate the complex machinery, but also to work with the many types of intravenous lines required. Dialysis nurses must have a keen attention to detail, as administering dialysis requires strict adherence to protocols. Dialysis nurses also need strong motivational and educational skills, as they teach patients of all ages and backgrounds about their disease and motivate patients to take care of themselves. APRNs in dialysis settings need to have strong leadership and teaching skills, and be able to analyze and apply research findings.
Opportunities for Advancement
Dialysis nurses can change their career direction by taking jobs as supervisors, head nurses, educators or case managers. APRNs can move to executive, academic or research roles.
Depending upon geographical region, education, and years of experience, the annual salaries for staff RNs and APRN dialysis nurses range from $44,000 to $95,000 annually. LPNs make anywhere from $29,000 to $55,000 annually. An LPN working as a Certified Hemodialysis Technician will make more than a non-licensed technician. As a general rule, hospitals pay higher salaries for dialysis nurses than outpatient centers or home care agencies.
Collectively, jobs for RNs are likely to grow faster than average (26%) in the next decade, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Labor.
A greater demand for dialysis nurses is likely for several reasons:
- Kidney disease is fairly common in the U.S, with about 10% of people affected by it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Age-related diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes are common reasons for kidney disease, and the U.S. population is aging quickly.
- Despite the rise in successful kidney transplants in recent years, hemodialysis is still the most common way to treat kidney failure, according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse.