Transplant Nursing

Transplant nursing is a specialty that facilitates organ transplants between donors and recipients.  A transplant nurse cares for patients who are donating or receiving an organ through transplant surgery.  The nurse prepares living donors for surgery to donate their tissue and organs, while monitoring their recovery during surgery, and educating patients in the post-operative period.  They also work closely with the families of deceased donors who have questions and concerns. Transplant nurses are well versed in educating patients on the risks and complications of surgery like organ rejection and infection.

Transplant nurses work in clinical facilities like hospitals and surgery centers. Transplant nurses work with all age ranges, including babies to the elderly.  They also must be familiar with a large variety of transplant operations.  Transplant nurses with live donors typically work during the day shift during the typical workweek in both the hospital and the outpatient surgery center.  Hospital transplant nurses for deceased donors are often required to be "on call" during the evenings, weekends, holidays, and nights for emergency surgery, which can occur 24 hours a day and seven days a week.  Transplant nurses have a meaningful role in saving lives and improving the quality of life through transplant surgery. The nursing specialization of transplant nursing is a vital and enjoyable role.

A transplant nurse is an expert in organ transplant surgery.  A transplant nurse is an expert in transplant nursing and works closely with the patient, the donor (or donor’s family), other family members, and the transplant team to ensure appropriate client education, a smooth procedure, and minimal complications.  

Transplant nurses have the very important role in preparing the donor, recipient, family, and operating team for the transplant.  A transplant nurse must be organized for the transplant.  It is important to be understanding and an excellent educator, as you may need to have difficult conversations with patients and their family members. A transplant nurse must have excellent communication skills to be aware of the needs of the surgeon and convey them to the surgical team.  Transplant nurses that work in the operating room often work extremely long hours for surgical cases, which can be substantially draining.

To pursue a career as a transplant nurse, you must first obtain a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program to successfully become a Registered Nurse (RN).  A Registered Nurse can attend an Associate Degree program or you can opt to obtain your Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  After receiving your nursing degree, you will take the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed.  Finally, you will apply to the Board of Nursing in your state to become a Registered Nurse.  

Most Transplant nurses have been trained in the perioperative field of transplant techniques by their hospital or other accrediting bodies. Transplant nurses may choose to further their training and become further specialized as a transplant coordinator, transplant assistant, and donor transplant coordinator.  These nurses remain in the transplant field with different responsibilities and pay.

Certification

Transplant nurses have the option to pursue a nurse certification that directly impacts their field. Transplant nurses must have experience in surgical transplant nursing before they can sit for the Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse (CCTN) Certification Examination which is offered through the American Board for Transplant Certification.   By completing your ABTC certification you will show that you have a high level of knowledge and competence in the field of organ donation and transplantation.

To sit for the CCTN exam, you must have:

  • A current and unencumbered RN license,
  • 24 months' work experience as a registered nurse,
  • 12 months of direct involvement in the care of the solid organ transplant patient.

The exam can be taken online at over 200 locations.  Typically, transplant nurse certification is valid for three years.  A CCTN can receive recertification by taking the exam again or receiving 60 continuing education units (CEUs).

The following are a list of basic duties that a transplant nurse can expect to perform. The description of job duties may vary based on the facility for which you work.

  • Assess patients to determine suitability for transplant or donation.
  • Feel confident as an educator and supporter of patients and family members preparing for a major surgery.
  • Assist the rest of the surgical team in the transplant surgery and move quickly and remain organized during complicated procedures.
  • Feel comfortable in the Operating Room with the policies, protocols, and nuances of organ donation and transplant.
  • Work quickly and know that organs have a limited amount of time between harvesting and transplant.
  • Be able to scrub in to sterile procedure and assist with the transplant, if needed.
  • Use critical thinking skills to determine if a patient is healthy enough to undergo the transplant procedure.
  • Understand appropriate vital signs and be confident to monitor and report them during the perioperative period.
  • Be familiar with signs and symptoms of infection and be comfortable dressing wounds.
  • Understand signs and symptoms of rejection and administer anti-rejection medications in the postoperative period.
  • Recognize medication dosage, complications, contraindications, and interactions
  • Collaborate closely with the discharge team, family member and patient to ensure medications, lifestyle changes, and therapy services are appropriate.
  • Recognize respiratory and cardiovascular decline and know initial steps to obtain help and to stabilize your patient.

The median salary for a transplant nurse is $63,000 annually, but the range is from $47,000 to $89,000 per year. Salaries for Transplant nurses vary significantly based on the amount of responsibility undertaken, the length of nursing experience you have behind you, and your geographical location. The career outlook for transplant nursing is excellent. According to BSL there will be approximately 19% increase  over the next 10 years. This nation's need for transplant health care services is increasing as the commitment to organ procurement services and hospital systems pioneering new procedures grows.

American Board for Transplant Certification
http://www.abtc.net

International Transplant Nurse Society
http://www.itns.org