Please tell me a little about your background. How and why did your career path lead you to transplant nursing?
I am an advanced practice nurse specializing in solid organ transplantation, especially for kidney/pancreas and liver transplantation. My scope of practice covers transplantation evaluation and post-transplantation care.
My journey to transplant nursing started in 2013 when I first met the liver transplant program surgery director, Dr. Hoonbae Jeon, at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health System. I was a student of the University of Illinois at Chicago nurse practitioner program and shadowed Dr. Jeon and his team in clinic and hospital settings. Dr. Jeon’s passion for organ transplantation and clinical practice of giving hope inspired me. I first became the kidney transplant coordinator and managed the waitlist and coordinated living donor transplantationat the University of Illinois Hospital and Health System. I also managed post-kidney/pancreas transplant patients as a nurse practitioner.
During this tenure, I interconnected my clinical with my research and defended my PhD in nursing dissertation about kidney transplantation at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With national transplant registry data, I identified the inferior outcomes of kidney transplantation for patients who had impaired physical function.
In 2016, as a nurse practitioner, I joined the transplant nephrology team at Loyola University Medical Center. Working with Dr. Amishi Desai and Dr. Raquel Garcia-Roca, I managed kidney/pancreas transplant patients and acute, chronic kidney disease and renal failure of non-renal organs such as heart, lung, and liver transplant recipients.
Now, I joined the Northwestern Transplant Surgery program and started to expand my scope of practice to managing liver transplants.
What are some aspects of your nursing role that you didn’t expect?
I initially did not expect that there were such various and strict governmental policies in the organ transplant society. Also, each transplant program has its institutional policy and criteria, which transplant nurses should know throughout the transplant spectrum.
The need for organ transplants is increasing. As a transplant nurse, how does that impact your work?
Because the demands for organ transplants have increased, we, transplant nurses, have met more responsibilities to screen suitable donors, optimize the transplant candidates, and maintain the graft functions healthy to utilize one of the most limited and scarce resources, donated organs.
What additional training has been helpful in your career?
I started my nursing career in the cardiovascular intensive care unit at the Samsung Medical Center, South Korea. I learned how to interpret cardiovascular testing results such as EKG, echocardiogram, stress echocardiogram, coronary angiogram as well as to manage the advanced life saving devices such as ICD, pacemaker, ECMO, IABP, and CRRT.
This training helped me significantly screening cardiovascular diseases of transplant candidates on the kidney transplant waitlist. Also, I studied advanced physiology and pathophysiology, including renal, immunology, and heart, in my PhD program. These gave me the fundamental knowledge to manage immunosuppressants and various complications of transplant recipients.
How has the ITNS had an impact on the work you do, your career trajectory, and/or your pride in transplant nursing?
Dr. Joyce Trompeta at the UCSF transplant program has mentored me throughout my transplant nursing journey. She was the president of ITNS and recommended that I join ITNS leadership. Since I joined ITNS, I have met phenomenal transplant nurses who everyday help patients deal with the fear and uncertainty of transplant outcomes and complex health conditions from the complications.
From those nurses whom I met at ITNS, I have learned not only knowledge but also empathy toward the transplant patients. Most importantly, I learned I was not the only one who often felt powerless, anxiousness, and sadness when the transplant outcomes became poor, and grafts were lost. Support and encouragement from these transplant nurses are my utmost motivation to remain in the transplant community.
This week honors transplant nurses around the world as they continue to set a high standard of excellence and work in a constantly changing nursing specialty. The International Transplant Nurses Society, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, marks this year’s Transplant Nurses Week from April 25 to May 2.
Transplant nurses work with patients, their families and caregivers, and all the relevant healthcare teams as a patient progresses through the different stages of solid organ transplant (preparation, transplant, recovery, and maintenance) as a recipient or a donor. Transplant nurses also work on teams where a deceased patient is an organ donor, and they work quickly and respectfully for this lifesaving match to have the most potential for success.
Although transplant nurses may not directly care for COVID patients in their daily routines, the pandemic has nonetheless impacted this area of nursing in untold ways.
People who live with a transplanted organ are often immunocomprimised because of the medications they take to prevent rejection of the transplant and that has posed complications for their risk for contracting the virus.
All of those recent developments influence the daily work of transplant nurses and those they care for. As advocates for their patients, transplant nurses are equipped to offer the highest quality, evidence-based care. They may take advantage of professional development and certification to keep their skills current.
Transplant nurses also know that they are ambassadors for organ transplant and donation. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, spreading the word about organ donation will make a difference in how many lives are saved. The more people who understand the process of a live donation or who take a few moments to register as an organ donor when they renew their license, for instance, can save more lives every year.
Nurses in their specialty know every bit of accurate information around the process helps more people understand the life-saving potential and possibly become a donor. Nurses can help spread the word in casual interactions with family and friends, or they can advocate in the larger community. They can offer formal information sessions in their hometowns, to professional organizations, or to legislators and other government officials who can help move forward transplant-related or transplant-beneficial legislation.
If you’re a nursing student considering transplant nursing as a career choice, be sure to spend some time with transplant nurses and their patients. Understand the complexity of the transplant process, the commitment to lifelong learning, and the intense emotional highs and lows of working with the families who are involved in some way. The rewards of this nursing specialty are significant and provide a lasting and meaningful career.
Transplant nurses care for patients in each stage of transplants and with both donors and recipients. From initial contact to treatment after procedures or surgery, transplant nurses provide nursing care, monitor patients, and work with patients and families around education. Nurses in this specialty have extensive knowledge of how the body reacts to tissue and organ transplants and the preparation and aftercare needed to help patients achieve the best possible outcomes.
Because transplants are very specialized, nurses in the transplant field can expect to work in specific areas like hospitals or transplant facilities. Nurses who prefer to work in one consistent area rather than move with a more dynamic schedule, between satellites of one organization or between several providers’ offices for instance, might find the stability of one working place a good option.
But transplant nurses wouldn’t ever expect one day to be like another. Transplants involve living and deceased donors, each of which brings a background and history to be understood and respected. Recipients also bring their own stories, expectations, hopes, and fears and, because of that, transplant nurses will navigate many emotional ups and downs, in addition to the physical challenges of transplantation, with patients and their loved ones.
A transplant patient’s road can be long and arduous, so transplant nurses might find they work with pediatric to senior patients who are in varying stages of emotional and physical health. Working as part of a transplant team gives nurses professional colleagues whom they can work with across disciplines. This kind of team approach brings in specialties that cover the patient’s whole health, and nurses will play an essential role in making sure each patient has an advocate.
As a nurse working with transplant patients, your conversations with your patients can help guide how you plan preparation for and recovery from the transplant as well. You’ll gain insight into the daily life, typical habits, eating and activity patterns, and social supports the patient has in place. Each of these details will help you establish proper supports and guidance for preparing for the surgery. You will likely assist during the transplant procedure itself, monitoring the patient and being their advocate while they are under anesthesia. In post-op recovery, you’ll continue to monitor the patient, watching for any signs of trouble or transplant rejection or infection.
Obtaining certification should absolutely be on your list as this extra knowledge will help you provide better care and will keep you up-to-date on the latest practices and findings in transplant specialty. You’ll need at least one year of full-time work as a med-surge or critical care nurse to gain a broad nursing foundation before you can apply for the certified clinical transplant nurse (CCTN) certification exam.
From its Chicago, IL headquarters, the ITNS helps nurses around the world connect with others in this specialized field and offers information to remain professionally current.
Transplant nurses work with patients who are having or have had solid organ transplants, so in addition to patient care, they also must stay current with the advances in transplantation itself. Education and professional growth are topmost issues for ITNS and nurses are encouraged to remain continually engaged with learning.
Transplant nurses have particular concerns about their patients and will interact with them along the entire spectrum of their transplant care. Theses nurses can specialize in one particular area—transplant coordinator, staff nurse, or post-operative, for instance—but understanding the entire transplantation spectrum helps them offer better care.
And while Transplant Nurses Day is a highlight of the year, the society also offers awards for transplant nurses and a yearly essay contest (the winner is announced on Transplant Nurses Day). The organization helps nurses interact with other nurses in the same specialty. Hearing from and learning from others in the field helps bring a fresh perspective and a new drive to their personal and professional commitment. Celebrations and struggles are understood and tips about certification or insight into transplant patient care can be shared.
And because transplant nurses work with more than just the patient, they are also able to address issues related to the family and loved ones of transplant patients. The ITNS Foundation offers grants and scholarships for professionals who want to further knowledge in the field as well.
Help the transplant nurses in your life celebrate their success on Transplant Nurses Day!
Transplant nurses specialize in the care of people who are undergoing or have had transplant surgery of solid organs. Since 2006, the ITNS has helped honor nurses who are committed to this branch of nursing by recognizing their efforts and their skill on the third Wednesday of every April.
The transplant nurses on staff work with a distinct population and help patients through all phases of care. They are there to help both the sickest patients awaiting transplant surgery and the healthy live donors, and assist during the procedures. Transplant nurses also work closely with patients and their families post-surgery to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible and to monitor for any complications such as organ rejection.
During this year’s Transplant Nurses Day, take a few tips from the ITNS and shower your transplant nurses with some extra love. Like with many other holidays to celebrate a specific field of nursing, the celebration to honor a group is what makes it special.
A luncheon or a gathering with cake and coffee is always a nice break in the day and a good way to say thanks. This is a great time to call out some nurses who have gone above and beyond their job duties and give them a small gift like a gift card to a local shop or coffee store they love. Personal thank you notes are also always appreciated.
In keeping with the ITNS mission, spreading education about transplant nurses and what they do is important. Invite local and state legislators to come hear a presentation in the near future about this profession. If you’re a transplant nurse, see if your team will take the time to make a presentation to a local school or library to teach others about what you do.
If transplant nursing sounds like something you would like to do, you’ll need to obtain your RN and then gain experience in critical care and surgical units. You need to be certified with a Transplant Nurses Certification through the American Board for Transplant Certification. As the field is so fast-paced, keeping up with the latest cutting-edge research and outcomes will become part of your job duties.
Say thank you to your transplant nurses on Transplant Nurses Day, and if you’re a transplant nurse, take the time today to honor all you do and the patients you help.
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