Dialysis Nurse Career Overview
March 2, 2022 , Updated on June 20, 2022 · 6 Min Read
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Dialysis nurses—also called nephrology nurses—specialize in caring for patients with kidney disease. They help patients who must undergo dialysis treatment, a process that removes toxins normally excreted by the renal system.
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Dialysis Nurse Career in Brief
Dialysis nurses administer treatment for kidney disease, including hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis. Dialysis essentially replicates the patient's kidney functions, regulating blood and cleaning out extra water, salt, and waste from the patient's body. In addition to carrying out dialysis, these specialized nurses:
- Educate patients and families about kidney disease and how to treat it
- Record patients' medical information
- Assess patients prior to treatment
- Monitor patients for any adverse dialysis reactions
- Manage fluid and electrolyte balance
- Communicate this information to doctors, in case the patient needs a treatment change
- Skills in operating healthcare machinery (specifically, a dialysis machine)
- Good communication skills
- Attention to detail
Credit: Jupiterimages / Polka Dot / Getty Images Plus
Where do Dialysis Nurses Work?
Dialysis nurses work in a few different settings, including dialysis clinics, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. Many dialysis nurses travel to patients' homes to administer treatment there, particularly in rural areas where patients may not have regular access to hospitals or clinics. Acute dialysis nurses work in ICU and other chronic care settings.
Meet with patients regularly throughout the week, offering hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis treatments and monitoring patients' reactions
Acute Care or ICU Departments
Administer emergency dialysis or other kidney treatments to people experiencing extreme kidney failure
Take and set up equipment in patients' homes, administer dialysis treatments, record patients vitals, communicate patients' conditions with the hospital or healthcare facility
Why Become a Dialysis Nurse?
As with any job, working as a dialysis nurse has its pros and cons. While it is a fulfilling career for many, be sure to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages before you enter the field.
Advantages to Becoming a Dialysis Nurse
Since you see the same patients frequently during the week, becoming a dialysis nurse allows you to cultivate relationships with patients.
Dialysis nursesâand registered nurses as a wholeâcan look forward to promising job growth. As more patients age, they continue to need dialysis care.
Opportunities for career advancement. You can earn a master's degree and work as an advanced practice nurse with a dialysis specialization.
Some dialysis nurses also travel as part of their job.
Disadvantages to Becoming a Dialysis Nurse
Especially for those working in acute care, dialysis nurses may work long hours.
Like in many healthcare roles, dialysis nurses may face burnoutâespecially when dealing with the emotional exhaustion of working with very sick patients.
Some dialysis nurses must go into the hospital or facility while on call, especially if only a few nurses specializing in dialysis work at that healthcare facility.
How to Become a Dialysis Nurse
Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure
Gain experience in dialysis nursing
Improve your job prospects as a Certified Dialysis Nurse (CDN) or a Certified Nephrology Nurse (CNN)
Learn More About How To Become a Dialysis Nurse
Featured Online MSN Programs
How Much Do Dialysis Nurses Make?
Dialysis nurse salaries vary, depending on factors such as experience and degree level. On average, a dialysis nurse's salary stands at about $72,000, according to PayScale data. Entry-level nurses in the field earn an annual salary of $59,150, while late-career dialysis nurses earn about $78,690, on average.
Along with other registered nurses, the number of dialysis nursing jobs could increase by 7% from 2019-2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That projected growth is faster than the average for all occupations.
Specialty Skills for Dialysis Nurses
Since dialysis nursing includes treating kidney disease, these nurses need specialty skills for this condition.
Hemodialysis involves the process of filtering a patient's blood through an artificial kidney. The treatment attaches a dialyzer (the artificial kidney) to the patient's blood vessels with needles. The process usually occurs at least a few times a week.
This type of dialysis uses the lining of a patient's abdomen to clean their blood. The healthcare professional places a catheter inside the patient's body, allowing a dialysis solution to flow through their body.
Nurses may need to assist with this procedure, which involves removing an organ from a person's body (in this case, a kidney) and replacing it with a working version.
Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy
This is a type of therapy for cleansing the blood of patients experiencing an acute kidney injury. This therapy follows a slower pace, usually over 24 hours, which can offer a better option for patients with unstable blood pressure and heart rate.
This involves continuing healthcare for individuals with kidney failure, but without dialysis or other kidney therapies. In other words, conservative management extends a person's kidney function for as long as possible without actually treating it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to become a dialysis nurse?
This depends on a nurse's education path. Nurses first need to earn a degree. An ADN traditionally lasts two years, while a BSN may take four years to complete. After earning RN licensure, nurses must complete 2,000-3,000 hours of work within the nephrology field to obtain certification. That could take 1-2 years. Overall, it could take 3-6 years to become a dialysis nurse.
Is dialysis nursing considered critical care?
Dialysis nursing is not strictly considered critical care. However, nurses who specialize in acute dialysis care work within the sphere of critical care. These nurses must give emergency procedures to individuals who need emergency or immediate dialysis treatment.
How do you gain experience in dialysis nursing after becoming an RN?
Before earning certification in dialysis or nephrology nursing, you must gain some experience working in the field. You can start by first participating in on-the-job training or continuing education opportunities focused on kidney disease and treatment. That way, you are more likely to find a dialysis nurse job at a hospital or outpatient treatment center.
What opportunities for advancement are available to dialysis nurses?
Dialysis nurses can keep growing in their careers by earning a master of science in nursing (MSN). This two-year graduate degree prepares students for advanced practice nursing, which allows them to take on more responsibilities, including meeting with patients independently. MSN graduates qualify for the Certified Nephrology Nurse-Nurse Practitioner (CNN-NP) credential.
Resources for Dialysis Nurses
American Nephrology Nurses Association (ANNA)Established as a nonprofit in 1969, this group now hosts a membership of about 8,000 nephrology nurses. The organization fights for nurses' interests in state and federal health policy. It also offers several opportunities for continuing education, including online modules, activities, and a digital library of resources.
Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC)Since 1987, the NNCC has offered certification for nurses within the nephrology and dialysis specializations. Individuals can find plenty of helpful certification exam preparation resources online. In addition, the group offers research grants, career mobility scholarships, and advocacy awards for nurses within this scope of practice.
ANNA Educational Scholarships and GrantsIn addition to providing continuing education opportunities, ANNA offers several grants and scholarships ranging from $1,000-$5,000. The scholarships provide financial help for nurses who wish to advance their careers in nephrology or dialysis specialization, while the grants offer funds for nurses who wish to carry out research in their field.
International Society of Nephrology (ISN)About 30,000 health professionals specializing in kidney disease make up this global organization. The group aims to advance our understanding of kidney health through education, grants, research, and advocacy. Members can participate in education webinars and conferences, or they can get involved in research and advocacy efforts.
Elizabeth Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW
Elizabeth Clarke (Poon) is a board-certified family nurse practitioner who provides primary and urgent care to pediatric populations. She earned a BSN and MSN from the University of Miami.
Clarke is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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