Nurses across the world are celebrating Transplant Nurses Week this week from  April 27 to May 4. Sponsored by the International Transplant Nurses Society, this week helps spotlight  what transplant nurses do in their everyday work and what skills nurses need in a career as a transplant nurse.

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.

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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.

Transplant nurses are especially needed as organ donation and transplant continues to see an increase. With their skill and their compassion, these nurses make an incredible difference.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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