Transplant nurses are specifically trained to support and give nursing care to patients throughout the organ transplant process. They also prepare living donors by educating them on the surgical procedure, the risks of donation and how to prepare for the operation. A living donor is a volunteer who donates a kidney, bone marrow, a portion of their liver or other tissues and organs. Indispensable organs, such as lungs or a heart come from deceased donors.
Education and Certification Requirements
A transplant nurse must have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a nursing diploma. It is important to concentrate on medical surgical courses during your nursing education. The next step is to pass the NCLEX-RN exam required by your state to receive a license to practice nursing. Most nurses work in intensive care, critical care or medical-surgical nursing to gain knowledge and expertise as a staff nurse before transitioning into transplant nursing. There is a voluntary certification program offered by the American Board for Transplant Certification that enables transplant nurses to demonstrate their proficiency. Transplant nurses perform continuing education to maintain their credentials and to stay informed on the latest developments in transplantation.
Transplant nurses work in hospital settings. They provide continuity of care from the initial contact, patient workup, waiting period and inpatient stay to the lifelong post-transplant care. Transplant nurses take medical histories, verify that all paperwork is signed and request tests to validate that the organs match. These nurse specialists also help surgeons clear donors and patients for the transplant procedure. Some assist during the surgery by checking vitals and passing instruments. Other nurses work exclusively in post-operative care where they monitor patients for potential organ rejection, check for complications in living donors and administer pain, antibiotic and immunosuppressant medications. Transplant nurses also operate the ECG and bladder scanners, place urinary catheters and oversee the central venous catheters. They position patients to ease discomfort and to facilitate healing. Ideal qualities for a transplant nurse are compassion, patience, determination and strong problem solving skills. They must demonstrate excellent bedside manner, communication skills and make appropriate clinical decisions during emergencies. Transplant nurses can also work in staff positions, such as case managers, research nurses, transplant coordinators and clinical nurse specialists. The job requirements vary with the role, but candidates must have a strong interest in transplant procedures. Most positions require a working knowledge of end-stage organ disease and high-tech therapies.
The salary for a transplant nurse is determined by experience, certification, geographical region and whether the nurse works in a rural or metropolitan area. The average salary for this specialized nurse is $62,000 per year. The career prospects for transplant nurses are exceptional because their expertise is in great demand. There are over 100,000 people on organ transplant waiting lists. The numbers are expected to escalate as the population increases. The growing demand will fuel job growth for these nurse specialists. Hospitals will also need to fill vacancies created when other transplant nurses retire.