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How to Become a Dialysis Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated January 11, 2023
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Learn how to become a dialysis nurse and find out about educational requirements, certification, on-the-job experience, and other qualifications.
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Many nursing students consider specialty nursing careers, such as a dialysis nurse. A licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), associate nursing degree, or a bachelor’s in nursing is required for dialysis nurses.

A certified dialysis nurse (CDN) credential is recommended but not required.

There are many advantages to being a dialysis nurse, including a challenging nursing career that often requires mostly day-shift work. Learn about the degree and certification requirements, how long it takes, and the steps involved in becoming a dialysis nurse.

What Is a Dialysis Nurse?

A dialysis nurse, sometimes referred to as a nephrology nurse, cares for patients undergoing dialysis. Dialysis is a specific procedure that removes the toxins the kidneys normally filter from the blood.

Dialysis nurses work in different settings including dialysis clinics, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. Dialysis home care nurses provide care to renal patients in their home. Acute care dialysis nurses work with renal patients in intensive care units.

A dialysis nurse provides care plans for those with kidney disease who experience or are at risk of chronic kidney disorder (CKD), end-stage renal disease, acute kidney injury, or other conditions requiring kidney-related intervention.

The dialysis nurse provides nephrology care to those with kidney disease who experience physical and functional issues, psychosocial concerns, and knowledge needs.

Steps to Becoming a Dialysis Nurse

There are several steps involved in becoming a dialysis nurse.

  1. 1

    Earn an LPN diploma, associate degree in nursing (ADN), or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited university.

    Consider the type of qualifying nursing degree you want to pursue before becoming a dialysis nurse.

    An LPN/LVN program is a much faster path to becoming a dialysis nurse. It takes one year and 45-50 credits to complete. If you are already an LPN/LVN, you may consider an LPN-to-BSN program to become a registered nurse (RN) which would give you an advantage in the job market.

    An ADN is a two-year RN program; a BSN is a four-year RN program. Some employers may require dialysis nurses to complete a BSN program or have an RN license.

    Once you’ve decided on the type of degree you want, the next steps are to submit an application and other documents such as official transcripts, a resume, and letters of recommendation. Upon acceptance, students must complete the required coursework along with clinical requirements.

  2. 2

    Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to receive licensure.

    The NCLEX-RN and the NCLEX for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) are national licensure exams that assess a nursing student’s ability to administer patient care. To pass the exam, you must:

    • check-circleApply and register to take the test in your state.
    • check-circlePay the application fee.
    • check-circleStudy for the test (note, there are many online study guides).
    • check-circleTake the scheduled NCLEX test at an official test center in your state.
    • check-circleWait around six weeks to find out if you passed.
    • check-circleRenew your LPN or RN license when applicable (each state has different rules on license renewal).
  3. 3

    Gain experience in dialysis and nephrology nursing.

    A nephrology nurse requires specific knowledge and expertise in kidney disease care, beyond the scope of practice taught in an ADN or a BSN program.

    New nurses may consider working in a hospital setting to gain experience. An inpatient renal unit treats patients with kidney disease in a hospital setting.

    To qualify as a CDN, recent graduates must have at least 3,000 hours of experience working with renal patients. Working in a hospital unit can provide this experience.

  4. 4

    Consider becoming a CDN nurse.

    There are several steps to becoming a CDN. This involves having an unencumbered nursing license in the U.S. and at least 3,000 hours’ experience in renal nursing.

    While LPNs are not excluded from certification, some programs no longer offer the CDN certification to LPNs. This may be because many facilities prefer or require an RN license to work as a dialysis nurse.

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Dialysis Nurse Education

Education required to become a dialysis nurse includes completion of an LPN/LVN diploma program, an ADN program, or a BSN program. Nurses must also pass the NCLEX.

LPN/LVN Diploma

An LPN/LVN diploma involves one year of coursework and clinical practicums. The course is usually offered at a community college or vocational/technical school. The requirement for graduation is 45-50 credits.

This is the fastest track to becoming a dialysis nurse, but many institutions require a 2-4 year RN degree.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Fundamentals of nursing; science courses like anatomy and physiology; nutrition; OB/GYN; pediatrics; medical-surgical nursing

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    12 months

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Practical skills required for providing basic nursing care

ADN Degree

An ADN diploma requires two years of coursework and clinical practicums. The requirement for graduation is 60-75 credits.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Same general courses as the LPN program, with an emphasis on clinical-based classes

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    24 months

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Skills needed to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and get RN licensure; formulation of nursing diagnoses and nursing care plans, a formal process that identifies potential patient needs and risks

BSN Degree

A BSN is a four-year degree that requires 120 credits for completion.

  1. 1

    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma with a GPA of 3.0 or higher or a GED certificate; statistics course preferred; interview; recommendation letters; personal essay; SAT/ACT test scores (depending on the program)

  2. 2

    Program Curriculum

    Includes most of the course topics in the ADN program with more focus on nurse management, community health nursing, mental health nursing, and evidence-based practice/research

  3. 3

    Time to Complete

    48 months

  4. 4

    Skills Learned

    Clinical skills like direct patient care and nonclinical knowledge (e.g., critical thinking in nursing and problem-solving skills, nursing management, and leadership skills)

Dialysis Nurse Licensure and Certification

The requirements for licensure for an LPN/LVN dialysis nurse include a high school diploma or GED certificate and a training program. The training prepares students to pass the NCLEX-PN or a state-administered licensing test depending on your location.

The RN licensure requirement for dialysis nurses involves completion of a 2-4 year nursing degree program and a passing grade on the NCLEX-RN.

The CDN certification is not a requirement to become a dialysis nurse, but it provides an advantage for applicants in the job market. The Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission CDN exam is offered online. It’s important to note that their certification for LPNs/LVNs is no longer offered.

To qualify to take the CDN test, nurses must:

  • check-circleHave an active, unencumbered RN license in the U.S. or its territories
  • check-circleHave 3,000 hours’ minimum experience caring for patients in need or at risk of dialysis (within the last 24 months)
  • check-circleHave taken at least 20 accredited continuing education hours in nephrology nursing in the past 24 months

Note that programs that qualify for CDN certification may differ from those that the state board of nursing accepts in any particular U.S. state.

After you have met the qualifications to take the CDN exam, there are several additional steps, including:

  • check-circleApplying online
  • check-circlePaying the $350 exam fee
  • check-circleCompleting the practice and prep course information
  • check-circleTaking the online exam

Working as a Dialysis Nurse

Depending on the setting, dialysis nurses perform different job duties.

  1. 1

    Dialysis Clinics

    Oversees the dialysis process, which involves hemodialysis (dialysis through a venous port) or a peritoneal dialysis (blood is cleaned through a catheter in the abdomen)

  2. 2

    Transplant Programs

    Collaborates with a multidisciplinary team; cares for patients who need kidney transplants; provides pre-op and post-op care

  3. 3

    Outpatient Clinics and Physician Practices

    Provides care for chronically ill patients and educates patients and their family members

  4. 4

    Inpatient Settings

    Cares for critically ill patients, especially those who may need dialysis while hospitalized

    According to Payscale in June 2022, the average salary for a dialysis nurse is $77,260.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Dialysis Nurse

question-mark-circleIs dialysis RN a good career?

Yes, dialysis nurses can select from various healthcare settings. Careers require a range of specialized nursing skills and responsibilities. Certification can help nurses increase their edge in the marketplace, becoming more employable.

question-mark-circleHow hard is it to become a dialysis nurse?

The career requires a high level of specialty knowledge, such as managing fluids and electrolytes and clearly communicating this knowledge to the patient, caregivers, and other healthcare providers.

To become certified as a dialysis nurse, 3,000 hours of experience working with renal patients is required. It is often challenging to get this type of specialty experience as a new nurse graduate.

question-mark-circleWhere do dialysis nurses work?

Dialysis nurses work in many roles, including staff nurses, dialysis nurses, nurse educators, transplant coordinators, nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists, and more.

There are also opportunities for those planning to continue their education. The graduate level of nursing in the field includes nephrology nurse practitioners.

question-mark-circleWhat career advancement opportunities are available for dialysis nurses?

There are opportunities for career advancement for nurses who want to earn an MSN or a DNP as certified nephrology nurse practitioners. This APRN role involves providing and coordinating care for those with kidney disease in various healthcare settings, including primary, acute, and chronic care facilities.

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