Advanced Practice Nursing

How to Become a Dialysis Nurse—Starting With Where to Earn Your Degree

How to Become a Dialysis Nurse—Starting With Where to Earn Your Degree
Dialysis nursing provides many opportunities for growth and advancement, both in education and experience. Image from Unsplash
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Suzanne Wentley October 23, 2019

You can work in dialysis with only an associate's degree, but you'll do more advanced (and remunerative) work with a BSN or an MSN. No matter how you get there, you'll be helping patients manage a serious chronic condition.

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When patients face end-stage kidney failure, they require dialysis, a process that uses a machine to mimic many functions of healthy kidneys. By removing waste, salt, and extra water from the body, dialysis allows patients to maintain safe levels of natural chemicals within the body; it also regulates blood pressure. Dialysis helps to extend and normalize lives for those with irreversible kidney disease and sometimes even allows people to heal and become healthy again.

There are two primary forms of dialysis:

Dialysis nurses are involved in both forms of treatment. To become a dialysis nurse, you must be caring, patient and positive; often patients are struggling emotionally or psychologically as they manage their kidney condition. You’ll be the one to answer questions and serve as an educated, wise friend during the long hours that patients are connected to the dialysis machine.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • How to become a dialysis nurse
  • Dialysis nurse job description
  • Resources for becoming a dialysis nurse
  • Best educational programs for becoming a dialysis nurse

How to become a dialysis nurse

A dialysis nurse (also known as a nephrology nurse) is a licensed registered nurse who specializes in working with patients living with end-stage kidney failure. RNs must, at a minimum, complete their associate’s degree from an accredited school. Many states require a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), which requires two years of additional study beyond the associate’s degree.

To earn your RN, you will also need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Eligibility requirements for the exam vary by state, but many allow for you to transfer licensure or receive a multi-state license.

Nurses who continue to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can become advanced practice registered nurses, a designation that includes:

Advanced practice RNs who work in dialysis are clinical nurse specialists. The MSN typically requires two additional years of study along with practical training acquired through a residency.

Dialysis nursing requires specialized knowledge. You’ll need to become a technical expert in the sophisticated equipment used to deliver dialysis. Some hospitals or private care companies require experience in kidney care, while others offer on-the-job training for registered nurses. You’ll also need to know about the dietary restrictions and medicinal requirements of your patients so that you can counsel them on how best to care for themselves.

You can learn your specialization in school, through clinical nephrology work, or through training modules available through the American Nephrology Nurses Association or the National Kidney Foundation.

As a dialysis nurse, you could earn anywhere from $44,000 to $95,000 annually, according to Nurse Journal. reports <a href=”” target=”_blank”>an average base pay for traveling dialysis nurses of $69,270 per year.

Salary is contingent not only on education and experience, but on your geographic location and the facility in which you’ll work. The number of nurses in the workforce is expected to rise significantly over the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 12 percent increase in new nursing jobs by 2028.

Dialysis nurse job description

Dialysis nurses work in a wide variety of locations, including:

  • Hospital dialysis units
  • Private dialysis facilities
  • Patient homes as a private nurse
  • Private nephrology practices

No matter where you work, the job description is relatively the same. Dialysis nurses are responsible for checking the condition of the patient before, during, and after their dialysis treatment. This means not only assessing physical health, but also emotional and mental health. A caring, bedside manner is important during this challenging time.

Dialysis nurses might also need to educate patients about their disease and how they can improve their health. This may mean teaching patients how to undergo peritoneal dialysis at home or discussing nutritional recommendations. You will likely be working with a doctor, technicians, nutritionists and other members of a medical team to create a treatment plan for each patient. You will also review lab work, discuss medications, and communicate regularly with patients to help them fully understand their prescribed treatment.

One benefit of working as a dialysis nurse is that, unlike a labor and delivery nurse, you’ll be able to work set hours. Dialysis centers are usually open during regular working hours.

Resources for becoming a dialysis nurse

Best educational programs for becoming a dialysis nurse

U.S. News & World Report ranks the best nursing schools in the nation. The top five are:

Top programs are great, but they’re also expensive. You should at least consider them as you pursue a master’s degree, which can qualify you for higher-paying, advanced practice nursing positions like a nurse practitioner. If you are not interested in advancing to the master’s level, however, you might be better served at a state university, most of which offer excellent, affordable nursing programs.

When considering educational programs, make sure the school is accredited through the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Some offer smaller class sizes, others offer online classes. Finally, inquire about the pass rate of the licensure exam. You want to make sure all your hard work pays off.

To further your career, you can continue your education to specialize in sub-fields such as pediatric or geriatric dialysis. You could also pursue your master’s degree or doctoral degree to become certified as an advanced practice nurse. With this added education, you also could apply for a supervisory position, such as a nurse manager or transplant coordinator. APNs can write prescriptions and perform some procedures; regulations vary by state.

Dialysis nursing provides many opportunities for growth and advancement, both in education and experience. Some nurses start their specialized careers here, while others transfer to nephrology or travel nursing after years in hospice programs or geriatric nursing. Whatever your path, you’ll know that you are making a difference in the lives of patients who need support as they manage a challenging condition.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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