Today in the chart

Celebrating Transplant Nurses Week 2024

Transplant nurses coordinate the complicated processes of organ donation, organ receiving, and transplant surgeries.

A group of unsung heroes—transplant nurses—coordinate the complicated processes of organ donation, organ receiving, and transplant surgeries. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, over 46,000 organ transplants were performed in 2023 alone.

A specialty so niche that you may not have heard about it in nursing school, transplant nurses are there for patients at every step of this journey to ensure patient safety and informed consent. Here is how they do it.

What is Transplant Nursing?

Transplant nurses are key in patient care and education throughout the transplant process. 

Since there are several steps to the transplant process, nurses may work in any of the following roles:

  • Pretransplant Coordination: Pretransplant coordination involves organizing patient evaluations and tests to ensure readiness for transplantation.
  • Transplant Surgery: In transplant surgery, nurses assist surgeons by circulating and ensuring patient safety during the operation.
  • Posttransplant Outcomes and Case Management. Posttransplant outcomes and case management require monitoring patient progress and coordinating with various healthcare teams to optimize their recovery and long-term health.
  • CRRT (Continuous Renal Replacement Therapy) Education and Training. CRRT education and training entails instructing both patients and healthcare staff on CRRT.

There are also a few specialty certifications you can pursue as a transplant nurse, including:

  • Certified Procurement Transplant Coordinator (CPTC). This position requires at least 12 months of experience as a vascular organ procurement coordinator. 
  • Certified Clinical Transplant Coordinator (CCTC). Requires at least 12 months of clinical vascular organ coordinator experience.
  • Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse (CCTN): This position requires at least 24 months of experience as an RN and 12 months of experience with solid organ transplants. 
  • Certified Transplant Preservationist (CTP). Requires 12 months of organ preservation experience. 

You can also visit The International Transplant Nurses Society website to learn more about transplant nursing. 

The demand for transplant nurses will increase with the total number of organ transplants growing steadily each year.

How One Nurse Got Started

Jeanelle Ignacio, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a transplant nurse and became a nurse over 24 years ago. She started at a step-down unit at Keck USC. 

“Shortly after that, I entered the critical care core training program where I worked in the medical ICU, often floating next door in our adjacent CTICU.” Ignacio explains how her team cared for post-op cardiac and lung transplant patients. 

Eventually, one of Ignacio’s ICU preceptors and long-time critical care mentors trained her in CRRT in the MICU. “I had no idea then how much learning CRRT would affect my future and professional development,” she marvels.

Once she was trained in CRRT, she had the opportunity to open the abdominal organ transplant ICU as one of the clinical coordinators. “Most of our patients were liver transplant patients both pre and post-op. I wore many hats during my tenure at Keck.” Her last role was as a critical care educator. She was put in charge of their large CRRT program. “I currently work for a medical device company specializing in CRRT and organ support therapies,” she explains.

Typical Workday for a Transplant Nurse

Ignacio’s job is one of many potential roles for a transplant nurse, but she specializes in CRRT.

She says her typical workday changes constantly. “One day, I may spend the entire day teaching nurses and physicians about CRRT. Another day may be a mix of various meetings and hospital rounding.”

She spends much time providing clinical support to hospitals looking to start new CRRT programs. She describes this process as helping with the development of CRRT order sets, policies, and procedures or coordinating education. Other transplant nursing roles will look different, and their workdays will vary.

Heartwarming and Heart Wrenching Aspects of the Job

Transplant nurses have both a rewarding and demanding job. 

Ignacio says, “Unfortunately, the demand for those awaiting available organs far outweighs organ availability. I have had to witness several of our patients pass on while awaiting their organ match.”

She describes the heartwrenching case of a 17-year-old awaiting a liver transplant. “I remember caring for her for over a month and that she was on CRRT. Unfortunately, she deteriorated. The day she passed was incredibly hard for me and my colleagues who helped care for her. Her prom pictures were posted in her room, which makes it so hard when we lose someone so young. There was not a dry eye in sight the night she passed.”

Technical Skills and Challenges Associated with Transplant Nursing

Transplant nursing requires extensive education and training. Most transplant nurses have been practicing for at least two years before specializing in transplant care. Gaining experience in the ICU is an ideal way to get your foot in the door.

Ignacio says you’ll need to know about advanced therapies, like:

  • CRRT
  • ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation)
  • VADs (ventricular assist devices)

Ignacio adds that you will also need to be educated on the pre-and post-transplant care of this patient population.

Advice for Aspiring Transplant Nurses

The demand for transplant nurses will increase with the total number of organ transplants growing steadily each year.

There are various certification options, and there will be varying experience requirements, Ignacio says. Her advice? “Seek a mentor and ask questions, a lot of questions. Ideally, select a mentor who specializes in your field of interest. I still keep in touch with my nursing mentors.”

She also recommends joining a professional organization and becoming an active chapter member. “This will facilitate growing your professional network and provide specialized educational offerings.”

Transplant Nurses Week 2024

With an ever-growing need for organ donation and transplantation, transplant nurses are vital to keeping the transplant process alive. Remember to honor and celebrate all the work transplant nurses do during Transplant Nurses Week, April 22 through April 29, 2024!

Stay updated with celebrating all your favorite nursing specialties by subscribing to The Nursing Beat.

Subscribe to our M-F newsletter
Thank you for subscribing! Welcome to The Nursing Beat!
Please enter your email address