Dialysis technicians help maintain the machines used for kidney treatments and prepare and help patients before and during their procedures. They work in a variety of institutional and home settings, with direct patient care a large part of the job. Entry into the field requires either on-the-job training or an educational certificate you can earn instead of a college degree.
When a person has what's known as an end-stage renal disease, their kidneys aren't functioning properly and need assistance performing their important functions. Dialysis machines help remove excess toxins and other fluids from the body, with patients attached to a device for hours at a time. Many patients must have multiple treatments each week.
Working under the direction of a doctor, nurse or lead technician, a dialysis tech, also known as a hemodialysis technician, prepares the machinery, gets the patient ready for the treatment, administers a local anesthetic, records the patient data the machine generates, and delivers any important information to the patient's physician. The work takes place in hospitals, clinics, senior care facilities and private homes.
"Hemodialysis techs interact daily with patients and their families, so they should have compassion and good communications and interpersonal skills," says Katie Marie Leonardo, coordinator of healthcare programs continuing education at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. "They're also responsible for instructing patients and families on the use of medical equipment, so we look for students who are attentive and show commitment."
To be successful in this career, you should enjoy working with people and be able to help those who might experience stressed during their treatments. You'll need good communications skills to work with patients, nurses and doctors, and must be able to fit into and work with all members of patient-care teams.
Training and education
You can become a dialysis tech by attending a certificate program, such as COD's, which takes about eight months, or by receiving on-the-job training from an employer. COD's program includes coursework that covers biology, chemistry, patient care, basic medical terminology, and specifics in kidney failure and treatment, infection prevention, and machinery use and maintenance.
During your training, you'll perform hands-on clinical work and get to see what it's like to do the job and work with patients. You must become certified to work as a dialysis tech in Illinois within 18 months of your training, so look for a program that is certified or accredited by a national accrediting body.
"We have a wide variety of students in our program," says Leonardo. "Some are traditional students coming out of high school, others are doing this because they've been laid off and want to get back into the job market, and others are looking for a change of careers." Healthcare workers often add one or more certifications, such as dialysis tech, to their skill set to improve their employability and increase their pay.
Some people use certificates to start working, earning pay while they attend night school or take weekend courses to earn an associate's degree in healthcare. "Our program can start graduates on a path to further certificates and degree opportunities in the healthcare field," says Leonardo. "It helps them get the entry-level job experience they need to see if they like the environment and then they can further their careers from there."
Better healthcare and more awareness of the benefits of good diet and fitness are leading to longer lives for Americans. As the U.S. population lives longer, they will have more diseases and conditions, however, with an increase in kidney problems expected. This should lead to an increase in demand for dialysis techs. According to the salary website Indeed.com, the advertised salary range for dialysis tech jobs in Chicago was between $30,000 and $51,000 in February 2014.
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