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What is a Dialysis Nurse?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated May 17, 2024
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A dialysis nurse is a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or registered nurse (RN) who specializes in working with patients who have kidney disease or experienced kidney failure and who must undergo a treatment known as dialysis. In the overwhelming majority of cases, a dialysis nurse is an RN, not an LPN, because an RN has completed at least two years of training. He or she is certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and generally is a certified nephrology nurse (CNN) or a certified dialysis nurse (CDN) as well. This type of nurse is among the health care providers who understand how a dialysis machine operates and who monitor the health of patients with kidney problems who must undergo dialysis. It usually is a dialysis nurse who draws blood from a patient, changes catheter dressings, ensures that catheters are cleaned and free of kinks and is a source of information about kidney disease for patients.

Another term used to refer to a dialysis nurse is nephrology nurse; nephrology is the study of the kidneys. People with kidney disease or who have experienced kidney failure often have to undergo a treatment known as dialysis. The kidneys are involved in the process of filtering and cleansing the blood, which helps maintain life. When this process does not happen naturally, it must take place artificially. Patient are hooked up to a dialysis machine that handles the filtration and cleansing of their blood in place of the kidneys. Dialysis nursed must have enough knowledge to detect when the machine is not functioning properly in order to request technical service if the problem is beyond his or her scope of practice.

Because dialysis cannot clean and filter the blood as efficiently or as safely as a properly functioning kidney can, complications can arise. A dialysis nurse is someone who is aware of these complications and who can quickly identify them when they might be taking place in order to notify the patient's physician. One such condition is known as amyloidosis, an accumulation of a protein-like substance in an organ of the body. These substances might not be removed via the artificial filters in the dialysis machine, leading to a build-up over time.

Instructions from a physician to be carried out in the treatment of his or her patient usually involve the services of a dialysis nurse. Although the duties of these health care providers can vary greatly depending on their level of education and experience, almost all of them administer medications and fluid therapy or blood products according to the doctor's orders. A dialysis nurse generally develops a long-term relationship with patients as opposed to a nurse who works in the emergency room. This contact allows the dialysis nurse to be instrumental in educating patients and encouraging them to comply fully with the diet prescribed by the physician.

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Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Jul 24, 2014

Being a dialysis nurse isn't easy. They have patients who will often be terminal in a fairly short time and since they do get close to their patients by necessity, it's tough to know many of them will not be here long.

But a good nurse knows how to encourage his or her patients, which is sometimes the most important aspect of the job. Dialysis patients are sometimes very depressed because of their dependence on a machine. It can be very troubling to people who have been really active. Being tethered to a machine for three hours three days a week is just not fun.

A nurse can also often spot trouble before it ever crops up because they see the same people all the time and may see a change coming that even the family does not.

By Grivusangel — On Jul 23, 2014

A good dialysis nurse is worth their weight in solid platinum! When my dad was on dialysis, the nurses were always available to call for information, and were a hotline to the doctor. If they thought for a second that my dad needed to see the doctor, or talk to him, they got him on the phone, pronto.

A dialysis nurse sees patients in every stage of renal failure, and they help people all day, so they are often better for information about diet and daily challenges than the doctor, and they're always willing to help in any way they can. They're absolutely critical to a dialysis patient getting the best care.

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