Dialysis Technician Education, Schools and Career Overview
Many people are unaware that dialysis technician jobs even exist, let alone understand what the responsibilities of this job may include. This rewarding health care job may involve caring for dialysis patients and operating kidney dialysis equipment. Dialysis patients have kidneys that no longer function correctly in making urine or removing excess waste from the body. The dialysis process may help those with non-functioning kidneys stay alive by removing the waste and extra fluids from the blood. There are two main types of dialysis. Hemodialysis patients are treated with a machine that has a special filter in which their blood is passed through. After the blood is filtered it is returned to the patient’s body. Peritoneal Dialysis is the other form of dialysis and involves a patient having a tube inserted into their abdomen to use the membrane lining of the abdominal cavity as a filter.
Dialysis techs can be referred to as hemodialysis techs, biomedical techs, nephrology techs, and patient care techs.
Dialysis Technician Specializations
Within this field there are a few different types of techs. Clinical dialysis technicians focus on patient care, including the set up process for the patient to undergo dialysis, monitoring them during dialysis, and concluding the process. They monitor the patient’s vital signs and run tests on the blood to ensure the waste is being removed properly. Dialysis techs also educate patients and their families on how to use the dialysis equipment, since oftentimes patients undergo this process at home.
Dialysis tech jobs can be found at freestanding dialysis clinics, hospital dialysis units, physician’s offices, or home health care where they see the patients in their homes. Today, an increased amount of dialysis techs are needed due to the number of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) being on the rise.
How to Become a Dialysis Technician
The following are the most direct steps to becoming a dialysis tech.
- Job shadow techs working in a dialysis unit to learn more about the field.
- Perhaps earn a nursing certificate as an LPN or RN. This is not a mandatory requirement.
- Take a course on phlebotomy. This is not a mandatory requirement either, but certainly makes doing the job of a dialysis tech easier.
- Enroll in a dialysis tech training program or certificate program.
- Maintain basic life support certification. Having training or a certificate in phlebotomy is also helpful in this field.
- Sit for a dialysis certification exam offered through The Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC), the Board of Nephrology Examiners Nursing and Technology (BONENT), or The National Nephrology Certification Organization (NNCO).
- Find a job as a dialysis tech.
- Maintain the necessary continuing education units for certification credential.
Dialysis technician degree programs
Although you don't need a college degree to become a dialysis technician, certification boards require some post-secondary education before allowing you to take any exams. Many community colleges, vocational schools and hospitals offer educational programs for aspiring dialysis technicians that take between six and eighteen months to complete and include supervised clinical experience in addition to traditional classroom hours.
Classes you're likely to encounter as a student enrolled in a dialysis technician certification program cover both theory and practice:
- Patient assessments
- Initiating and concluding dialysis
- Dietary regulation
- Hematologic aspects and blood chemistries
- Infectious diseases
- Complications of renal failure
Dialysis technician certification
Dialysis technician certification is federally mandated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The National Nephrology Certification Organization (NNCO) offers two types of certification, both of which are nationally recognized and accepted by all employers.
Clinical Nephrology Technology Certification covers the following:
- Principles of dialysis
- Patient care
- Dialysis procedures and documentation
- Complications of dialysis
- Water treatment and dialysate preparation
- Infection control and safety
- Dialyzer reprocessing
Biomedical Nephrology Technology Certification encompasses some of the same concepts, but focuses more on mechanical principles, rather than the patient-technician relationship. Items covered on this test include, but are not limited to:
- Scientific concepts
- Electronic applications
- Equipment functions
- Environmental and regulatory issues
- Dialyzer reuse and reprocessing
Both types of certification require an applicant to earn a passing score on an exam, and must be repeated every 3-4 years. Most exams are available year-round throughout the country. It is worth noting that NNCO isn't the only governing body for dialysis technician certification; other organizations, such as the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC) and the Board of Nephrology Examiners Nursing and Technology (BONENT), offer similar examinations and have similar prerequisites. Check with your state board of nephrology to decide on a course of certification that fits your goals.
Dialysis tech training
The National Association of Nephrology Technicians/Technologists (NANT) strongly encourages formal dialysis technician training in order to become a professional in this field. However, sometimes dialysis technicians are trained on the job. To work in a dialysis tech role, most jobs require basic life support certification. Employers also prefer hiring dialysis techs with nursing certificates and experience in phlebotomy (drawing blood).
Formal dialysis technician training programs generally can be completed in the course of a year to 18 months. Typically courses included in dialysis programs are anatomy of the rental system, dialysis procedures and instruments, patient care, and nephrology (study of kidney disease), to name a few.
Dialysis technician career advancement
Patient care technicians, including dialysis technicians, may find improved job opportunities by gaining on-the-job experience. However, patient care technicians might move on to other careers, such as licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) or registered nurses (RNs), after 20 years.
The geographic location and employment setting where patient care technicians choose to work may also contribute to their potential for advancement. Patient care technicians can find employment opportunities in a variety of places, including hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. Patient care technicians can even work as private caretakers.
Career Outlook and Salary for Dialysis Technicians
In general, many health care jobs are on the rise due to advances in medical technology, healthier living, and an aging population. You might expect to see the following types of job growth and salary as a dialysis technician:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Health Technologists and Technicians, All Other||124,390||$46,690||19.4%|
|Respiratory Therapy Technicians||9,600||$50,900||-56.3%|
- Patient Care Technician Salary, payscale.com, June 2015. http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Patient_Care_Technician/Hourly_Rate
- Registered Nurses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm
- Medical Assistant vs. Patient Care Technician: What You Need to Know, Rasmussen College, http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/health-sciences/blog/medical-assistant-vs-patient-care-technician/
- The Certified Patient Care Technician/Assistant (CPCT/A), National Healthcareer Association, http://www.nhanow.com/patient-care-technician.aspx
- "How to Become a Dialysis Technician," http://www.innerbody.com/careers-in-health/how-to-become-a-dialysis-technician.html
- National Nephrology Certification Organization, http://www.nnco-cert.org/