Although dialysis nurses -- like all registered nurses -- perform basic nursing functions, much of their care is specialized and specific to the needs of patients with renal failure. Dialysis nursing is a subspecialty of nephrology nursing -- the care of patients with kidney and urinary tract disorders.
A Balancing Act
A patient with kidney failure needs specialized attention to diet, fluids, medications, infections and skin care. The dialysis nurse must constantly balance a patient’s need for care against his kidneys’ capabilities. For example, she must ensure that he receives enough fluid to maintain vital body functions, such as circulation, but not become overloaded with fluid because he cannot excrete the excess. Patients with kidney failure cannot excrete waste products from medications and might require dosage adjustments. Many aspects of the nurse’s care must be altered to prevent harm to the patient.
Dialysis nurses perform or supervise two kinds of dialysis treatments. Hemodialysis literally washes impurities out of a patient’s blood. The blood is withdrawn from a special access point called a shunt, circulated through a dialysis machine and returned to the patient in a similar manner. Medications to help prevent the blood from clotting require careful monitoring to ensure bleeding does not occur. Peritoneal dialysis is a continuous process that uses the patient’s abdominal cavity to hold the dialysis fluid. Peritoneal dialysis patients perform their own treatments, but need care coordination and support from the nurse.
Special Skills and Knowledge
When a patient lives with a chronic condition such as kidney failure, his daily activities have a major impact on his health. Dialysis nurses spend much time educating patients about various issues, such as the correct diet for kidney failure -- for example, sodium restriction to prevent swelling. The dialysis nurse must know how to operate not only the dialysis machine but a wide variety of other medical equipment, such as intravenous pumps or controllers. She must also know how to respond appropriately to emergencies, such as cardiac arrest or severe bleeding.
Degrees, Demand and Money
As RNs, dialysis nurses could have a nursing diploma, an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. They must be licensed in all states, and have the option to become certified in their specialty. Some employers might prefer or require certification. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an estimated job growth of 19 percent for RNs between 2012 and 2022. Part of that demand is driven by an increased incidence of renal disease. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that chronic kidney disease more than doubled in those age 65 or older between 2000 and 2008. Indeed.com reports the average annual salary for dialysis nurses was $65,000 in 2014.
- General Healthcare Resources, Inc.: GHR Job Description Position - Dialysis Nurse
- DaVita: Nurses: Taking Care of Patients at the Dialysis Center
- American Nephrology Nurses’ Association: Scope of Practice for Nephrology Nursing
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Registered Nurses
- Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission: CDN U.S. Eligibility Criteria
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Kidney Disease Statistics for the United States
- Indeed.com: Dialysis Nurse Salary
- Photo Credit trismile/iStock/Getty Images
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