There are many reasons to want to work in healthcare, but many are truly motivated by helping other people to live a happier and healthier life. As a dialysis assistant or technician, you will the job of helping people with chronic kidney failure or end state renal disease.
Not only is this a job with ample opportunity to help others: It also is in very high demand, due to the aging US population and the higher incidence of type 2 diabetes, which is one of the major risk factors for serious kidney problems.
A dialysis assistant career can be a good entry into the healthcare profession, and it can lead eventually to many other health care jobs, depending upon the level of education you achieve.
This field also is worth considering because it is possible to be certified after you only have had a semester or so of education in the dialysis profession. Getting through school quickly will allow you to start working and earn a good salary.
What Dialysis Assistants Do
Dialysis is an important medical procedure that helps patients with limited or nonexistent kidney function. A dialysis assistant runs the dialysis machine that filters waste and excess water and salt from the body. They also provide assistance to patients before, during and after treatments. Dialysis assistants also design protocols and teach patients about the practices and principles of dialysis.
Common duties for dialysis assistants include:
- Take patient blood pressure
- Check patient weight
- Conduct inspections of the hemodialysis machine before and after the procedure
- Perform fluid removal rate adjustments and calculations
- Tell the doctor or nurse of any changes in the condition of the patient
- Perform blood flow rate measurements during dialysis procedures
How to Become a Dialysis Assistant
To work as a dialysis assistant or technician, you need to earn a certificate or associate’s degree from a community college or vocational school. Some hospitals also offer a dialysis technician program. Most of the programs can be finished in under a year, and typically only require a high school diploma to be admitted.
For example, Sanford-Brown College in Texas offers a certificate in dialysis technology. This is a semester long program that studies the following areas:
- Dialysis principles
- Anatomy and physiology of the kidney
- Fluid and electrolyte balance
- Hematologic aspects
- Infectious diseases
- Dialysis equipment and systems
- Dietary regulation
- Blood chemistries
- Renal failure complications
- Renal transplants
This program will prepare you to work under the supervision of registered nurses and doctors.
The core curriculum includes lectures, laboratory work, and clinical components. There is a final externship where part of the curriculum is several supervised experiences in a clinical setting. This is where the student does actual physical assessments, universal precautions, fluid management, starting and ending dialysis, and treating normal hemodialysis problems per standard dialysis procedures.
After students graduate and are certified, they most commonly work in dialysis centers, hospitals, outpatient clinics and specialized centers.
Many students will decide to seek certification after they complete their dialysis assistant program. The certification requirements per state can vary, so you should check with your state board. Regardless, having a certification in this field will enhance your employment prospects. There are four basic types of certification:
- Clinical Hemodialysis Technician (CCHT): requires six months of experience to qualify for the examination.
- Hemodialysis Technician Certification (CHT): requires passing the exam and a year of experience with dialysis technology.
- Biomedical Nephrology Technology (CBNT) and Clinical Nephrology Technology: requires passing the exam and a year of experience with dialysis technology.
There are two organizations that offer examinations and certification in this field:
This is the Board of Nephrology Examiners Nursing and Technology (BONENT). This organization certifies that you have completed the program and also that you know how to apply what you have learned in the real world. The certification exam costs $240 to take it online and $210 for the paper version. Both tests are 150 questions long. This certification is only for the state level.
To qualify for the BONENT examination, you generally need to have a high school diploma and at least 12 months of experience in dialysis patient care and are currently working in such a facility. However, if you do not have a high school diploma, BONENT will accept four years of work experience in its place to qualify to sit for the exam.
Also, Medicare and Medicaid has passed a law that mandates that all dialysis assistants be certified either at the state or national level. The National Nephrology Certification Organization (NNCO) meets both certification standards. This exam is 200 questions long and it costs $245.
To qualify for the NNCO examination, you must have at least a high school diploma or GED, or four years of full time experience in dialysis technology.
Why Become a Dialysis Assistant
The US population is growing older and living longer. With longer life expectancy comes more health problems. A common health problem of older Americans is kidney failure, which can be exacerbated by type 2 diabetes – a very common malady in America with its high obesity rate. As more people are coming down with diabetes and kidney problems, there is a greater need for dialysis assistants or technicians.
There also is greater demand for dialysis professionals because more people today have health insurance than a decade ago. This is creating pressure on the system to provide dialysis services to older people with health problems.
The data at the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that there is much higher need for these types of healthcare professionals. BLS reports that employment for medical laboratory technologists is going to increase by 14% by 2024, and for medical laboratory technicians, the increased demand will be 18%. Thus, experienced dialysis technicians and assistants, especially with certification, will have little trouble securing work.
US News and World Report also confirms that the general field of clinical laboratory technology, including dialysis work, has a good future. It ranked clinical laboratory technician as the #11 best health care support job for 2016. It also noted that the field has only a 1.9% unemployment rate.
The pay in this growing field is also a very good reason to become a dialysis assistant. The median pay for all medical and clinical laboratory technicians was $38,900 as of May 2016. The top 10% earned more than $61,000 per year.
- Sanford Brown College. Dialysis Technology Certificate Program. (n.d). Retrieved from http://www.sanfordbrown.edu/Areas-of-Study/allied-health-technicians-and-therapists/dialysis-technology
- Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Medical-and-clinical-laboratory-technologists-and-technicians.htm#tab-2
- Clinical Laboratory Technician. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/clinical-laboratory-technician