Transplant Nurses Week: Celebrating their lifesaving contributions

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April 26-May 3 is Transplant Nurses Week, which raises awareness about the contributions these nurses make;.More than 700,000 transplants have been performed in the United States since 1988.Transplant nurses work with patients who are receiving or donating organs, often in surgical wards in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and specialized organ transplant facilities.“My advice to any aspiring (transplant) nurse would be to go for it,” one nurse said. “You’ll never regret it. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding.".“It is a rewarding experience and allows you to work with many different departments and specialties, all of which have one common goal in mind,” another transplant nurse said

Transplant Nurses Week is observed April 26-May 3 this year to raise awareness about the contributions these nurses make, especially in the lives of their patients.

The need for transplant nurses is growing, as about 114,000 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list to receive organ transplants, according to the American Transplant Foundation, with more than 700,000 transplants in this country since 1988. The heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small intestines can be transplanted, as can corneas and skin. Organ transplants from deceased donors reached a historic high in the U.S. in 2020.

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What transplant nurses do

Transplant nurses work with patients who are receiving or donating organs, often in surgical wards in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers and specialized organ transplant facilities.

They help with preparing living donors for their procedure and educating them about the process and assist with deceased donors by monitoring and preparing their bodies for surgeries. Transplant nurses also prepare and educate patients and their families about the procedure and help surgeons during operations.

Their work can continue after surgeries since they often dress wounds and monitor patients for complications or organ rejection. Their care can continue years after patients have received their transplants, according futureofpersonalhealth.com.

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In their own words

It’s that continuity of care and continuing relationships with patients that has led Sandra Cupples to stay in the profession for more than 20 years, she told futureofpersonalhealth.com. She received her doctorate in nursing and then researched how stress affected transplant patients and their families and how they coped.

“I was hooked. From that point on, it was part of my DNA,” she told the website.

Cupples became president of the International Transplant Nurses Society. As a transplant nurse, she’s seen the determination of patients and their families over the years, from wanting to be there for a child’s graduation to taking over family duties that may go beyond their usual experience.

“My advice to any aspiring (transplant) nurse would be to go for it,” she said. “You’ll never regret it. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

“There are very few types of nursing that provide those type of relationships,” she added.

Austin Timmons, an operating room RN at Lago Medical Center in Florida, also said he finds working as a transplant nurse to be very rewarding. One of the biggest challenges of the job, he told minoritynurse.com, is seeing the patient immediately before surgery, when they’re always emotional. Nurses provide comfort during this time and are in constant close contact with family members during the surgery to provide information and support. Seeing their joy after the procedure is one of the greatest rewards, he said, using the example of a kidney transplant recipient who cried in happiness when they were able to make their own urine for the first time in more than a year.

Like Cupples, he encourages aspiring transplant nurses to “go for it.”

“It is a rewarding experience and allows you to work with many different departments and specialties, all of which have one common goal in mind,” he said.

Caterine Oswood, assistant nurse manager for abdominal transplant, urology and robotics with Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Department of Surgical Services, also cites the teamwork aspect as a rewarding part of the job.

“I think that our efforts as a united surgical team is what gives our patients that second chance at life, and that’s what I love most about what we do,” she told clevelandclinic.org.

The job is so special, she said, because “As a transplant nurse, you are part of the process of giving the gift of life.”

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Job requirements

Becoming a transplant nurse requires a combination of education, experience and licensure. The following steps are what’s needed to become a transplant nurse, according to Johnson & Johnson:

  • Earn an associate or bachelor’s of science degree in nursing
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN, the National Council Licensure Exam that lets you become an RN
  • Work as an RN for at least two years, including 12 months of working with organ transplant patients
  • Pass the Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse exam, which is offered through the American Board for Transplant Certification.

In his interview with minoritynurse.com, Timmons said that attention to detail, organization and highly developed communication skills are qualities needed in this profession.

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What the job pays

Median salaries for transplant nurses start at $53,726, according to nursejournal.org. As experience increases, so do salaries, rising to a median of $63,585 in midcareer and $72,820 in late career.

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