Save lives as a transplant nurse

September 9, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Transplant nurses perform the highly specialised task of caring for patients who are either receiving or donating an organ. These skilled professionals care for patients who receive life-saving organs and tissues from living or deceased donors. They also prepare living donors for their specific transplant procedures and inform them about any risk that may be involved in the process.

For anyone who enjoys a challenging career that revolves around preparing patients for surgeries, helping the surgeon with surgical procedures and providing post-operative care, a career as a transplant nurse is an excellent choice.

Detailed job description  

Transplant nurses offer expert assistance during every phase of the transplant procedure, from the donation phase and pre-operative care to the actual transplant procedure, post-operative care and issuing of discharge instructions. Pre-operative care involves reassuring the patients, answering all questions the patient may have and checking that all vitals are stable so the patient is mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for the upcoming surgery. Post-operative care involves carefully monitoring patients for complications such as organ rejection after the surgery is complete.

Scrubbed up and ready to observe a day in surgery As a transplant nurse, you could work with deceased as well as living donors. 

Deceased donors are people who, before dying, would have left instructions for their organs to be donated to living patients. In such cases, you would be responsible for monitoring the deceased donors body until the surgical team arrives, preparing the body for the procedure and rendering assistance during the surgery.

Living donors are people who voluntarily decide to donate an organ or tissues such as bone marrow or a kidney to save the life of another person. In this case, you would help prepare the donor for the procedure and inform them of the risks involved in the donation. As a transplant nurse you may also assist in the transplant procedure and provide post-operative care to the living donor as well as the recipient. This would involve monitoring both patients for signs of infection, organ rejection or any other complications associated with organ transplants and completing all paperwork related to the procedure or the patients status. When all the vitals are stable and there are no risks of any complications, you would provide discharge instructions to both patients when they are ready to return home.


Work setting

Transplant nurses work in an in-patient setting, usually within the surgical department of a hospital. These professionals rarely work a set schedule. Their schedule is entirely dependent on the availability of matching organs. When an organ becomes available, these nurses must be on duty to make sure everything moves along smoothly and to monitor the transplant patients at all times. For an organ transplant to be successful the timing is crucial. Organs could become available from deceased donors at all hours of the night, and the transplant must be done immediately after the donor passes away.


Education and training

Transplant nursing is a highly specialised field. Most nurses who choose this specialty hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, many employers prefer to hire someone with a masters degree or a PhD.

While your education would be the same as other nurses on your programme, if you have plans of pursuing a path in this specialty, you should take electives that focus on medical-surgical nursing and transplant nursing. Courses in intensive care and critical care are also strongly recommended.