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A transplant nurse plays an essential role during organ transplant surgery. Before pursuing a job as a transplant nurse, though, make sure to prepare yourself. Ask the right questions, such as, “what does a transplant nurse do,” “how much does a transplant nurse make,” “can I handle the responsibilities of a transplant nurse,” and “does a transplant nurse salary fit within my financial and career goals?”
This guide answers these and other important questions for aspiring transplant nurses. Our guide compiles information about necessary skills, salary data, and requirements for education and licensure.
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What is a Transplant Nurse?
Transplant nurses must become licensed as registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in facilitating organ transplants. They carry out medical responsibilities, preparing patients before surgery and monitoring their recovery process afterward. They also educate patients and donors about surgeries.
Since this position requires a high knowledge about organ transplants, nurses usually do not begin work immediately in transplant for their first job. They need training in transplant techniques, which they can learn at the hospital or clinic where they work.
What Do Transplant Nurses Do?
Transplant nurses work with patients receiving or donating organs in a medical setting. They assist medical professionals in preparing donors for transplant procedures and educate donors on the procedure, along with any risks involved. The types of organs that can be donated by living donors vary, but most donate bone marrow, a kidney, part of a liver, and other organs and tissues.
Organs donated by non-living patients include lungs and hearts, among others. Along with helping surgeons during operations, transplant nurses aid in the post-operative stages to transfer patients from the surgical room and monitor them in case of organ rejection.
While transplant nurses primarily assist with surgeries, many of their job responsibilities occur before and after surgery, too. Before surgery, they educate patients, donors, and families about the process itself. Nurses inform these individuals about transplant procedures, including possible risks.
After the surgery, transplant nurses may dress wounds, monitor vital signs, and watch out for any signs of infection. If complications occur with the patients after the operation, transplant nurses need to think critically to stabilize the patient. Occasionally, if the surgery does not go as planned, the nurses need to deliver the unfortunate news to family members and loved ones.
Where Do Transplant Nurses Work?
Transplant nurses often work in surgical wards in hospitals. They may find employment in operating rooms beside doctors, along with recovery rooms and patients’ rooms afterward. While they work on teams during surgeries, they often perform their patient recovery duties on their own.
Alternatively, transplant nurses might work in ambulatory surgical units or organ transplant facilities, as well. In ambulatory surgical units, doctors and nurses perform “same day” surgeries. In these cases, nurses usually call patients to check on them instead of physically guiding them through recovery in the hospital.
Skills That Could Affect Transplant Nurse Salaries
Transplant nurses need to master several other soft skills to help them succeed. Since a large part of their job involves talking to patients and donors about the risks and expectations involved with transplant surgery, these nurses need to communicate well to deliver difficult information in a straightforward but reassuring manner.
Nurses need physical stamina, attention to detail, and critical-thinking skills. Surgery comes with many risks and difficult decisions. Transplant nurses make many of these decisions, such as ensuring that patients are healthy enough to go into surgery or properly dressing patients’ wounds.
How to Become a Transplant Nurse
The road to becoming a transplant nurse can seem challenging, but it comes with its rewards. Many patients and donors feel scared or anxious about organ transplant surgeries, and these nurses do the vital work of educating them and helping them recover after surgery.
Colleges do not give out “transplant nurse degrees,” so transplant nurses need to first earn licensure as RNs. The specific details on how to become licensed as an RN vary with each state, but perspective RNs generally need to earn a higher education degree in nursing and pass a licensure exam. Some transplant nurses also earn additional certification in transplant nursing. Read more details about transplant nurse requirements below.
To become an RN, each individual typically needs to earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). A BSN generally lasts four years, while an ADN can take 2-3 years. Many colleges and universities provide online programs as well, allowing students to pursue their degree at their own pace.
Nurses sometimes earn their ADNs first, and then after working for a few years, head back to college for RN-to-BSN programs. Prospective nurses should consider their state’s requirements and employer preferences when deciding which educational path to take. Most employers prefer RNs with BSNs. Some hospitals offer diploma programs in nursing, but these are not as common.
Training and Certification
Nursing degree and diploma programs all require students to participate in supervised clinical training, which commonly occurs in hospital settings. The length of the training depends on state requirements and the educational level. A BSN typically includes more clinical hours than an ADN.
Prospective RNs also need to pass the national council licensure examination (NCLEX-RN). The comprehensive exam evaluates future nurses’ knowledge related to safety and infection control, health promotion and maintenance, and physiological integrity.
After receiving RN licensure, nurses need to continue their training to become transplant nurses. Sometimes this training occurs on the job, while nurses work at hospitals. Some employers prefer transplant nurses to earn a certified clinical transplant nurse credential, offered by the American Board for Transplant Certification. This tests nurses’ knowledge about donor identification, organ recovery, patient education, and post-transplant care.
Transplant Nurse Salaries and Job Growth
RNs made a median salary of over $71,000 in 2018, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A transplant nurse salary differs slightly. PayScale estimates that nurses working in the medical surgery specialty earn a yearly average of nearly $66,000.
These salary figures vary based on several factors, such as location. The first table below demonstrates that the top areas include some of the largest cities in the country, which also come with a higher cost of living, such as New York City and Los Angeles. BLS data also shows the states with the highest annual mean wages for RNs include California, Hawaii, Washington D.C., Massachusetts, and Oregon.
Experience level also makes a significant difference on a transplant nurse’s salary. Late-career medical surgery nurses can earn about $19,000 more than their entry-level colleagues, as shown in PayScale data in the second chart below. Finally, the third table compares transplant nurse salaries with similar positions in the field.
Highest Salary Locations for Transplant Surgery Nurses
International Transplant Nurses Society This Chicago-based organization offers membership to transplant nurses around the world. Members can join regional and state chapters to connect with peers through special interest group listservs. The group hosts an annual symposium, provides funding for research grants, and runs a career center.
Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses AMSN offers over 11,500 professional connections for nurses who specialize in surgeries. The group publishes several professional development resources, including an online library and periodicals. Its website also includes job postings. Student members can apply for scholarships, and professionals can earn the certified medical-surgical RN credential.
Association for Nursing Professional Development This organization provides several resources for nurses to participate in professional development training and education. Members can take advantage of webinars and a preparation course for nursing certification. They also receive exclusive access to a discussion forum, career center, publications, and other private resources.
Nurse.com Job Search Students, entry-level nurses, and nurses seeking new roles can all find job opportunities through this site’s search engine. Visitors can narrow their criteria to search for jobs specifically within the transplant or medical surgery fields.
American Nurses’ Association As one of the largest nursing professional organizations, ANA offers membership to nurses with any specialization. Members can join different communities based on their focus areas and engage in online discussion forums. The website also runs a blog, covering subjects like heart attacks and patient advocacy.
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