What is a Dialysis Nurse, and What Do They Do?
Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN is a nurse writer and educator with over 25 years of experience. She has been certified in five different clinical specialties including critical care and emergency nursing. Starting as an associate degree registered nurse, she continued her schooling in traditional and distance-learning settings to obtain a BSN, MSN, and PhD in nursing while working full-time and raising a family. Lorry teaches nursing in a variety of settings including webinars and online nursing courses.
Dialysis nurses, also called renal or nephrology nurses, focus on conditions of the kidney. When the kidneys fail, toxins build up in the body that must be regularly removed. In addition, the balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body is altered. Dialysis imitates the primary functions of the kidney and is a life-saving process for individuals in acute or chronic kidney failure.
What to Expect as a Dialysis Nurse
Registered nurses direct the care available in freestanding or hospital-based dialysis units. They provide individualized care to the renal patients and ensure that dialysis equipment is working properly. The dialysis team may also include technicians who manage machine operation. In general, the basic duties of a dialysis nurse are to consult with doctors regarding a patient’s overall treatment plan and to alert doctors to any changes in a patient’s condition.
Because dialysis purifies the blood of toxins and balances body fluid make-up, dialysis nurses must interpret blood lab values, which reflect the impact of treatment. The treatment goal is to bring each patient’s blood values as close to normal as possible.
Kidney failure affects many other body processes including cardiovascular, pulmonary and gastrointestinal systems. Dialysis nurses must be aware of the signs of kidney failure and must evaluate their patients regularly to make sure treatments are effective.Dialysis nurses develop a close relationship with patients and their families, as dialysis treatment is typically required three days a week. In addition, patients must be actively involved in their health management particularly nutrition and exercise to maximize the benefits.
What You Will Need as a Dialysis Nurse
Providing clear patient education with motivational encouragement is a major component of the dialysis nurse role. This education also involves information about the primary disease initiating the kidney failure. For most dialysis patients, this underlying cause is either diabetes or hypertension.Patients with chronic renal failure can become disheartened and discouraged about their condition. Dialysis nurses use strong communication and leadership skills combined with a positive outlook to assist and motivate their patients.
How to Get Started
Most dialysis units have extensive training programs for new nurses. It is preferable to have a general nursing background and many years of experience before pursuing this specialization. Even so, large dialysis companies may have programs for graduate nurses.