Dialysis Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts

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dotDialysis technicians, sometimes called renal technologists, administer dialysis treatments to patients suffering from kidney disease. Dialysis is a technique to clean the blood of patients whose kidneys cannot perform the function. Technicians operate and calibrate dialysis machines.

These technicians must be equally comfortable with high-tech machines and patients. They work under the supervision of doctors and with nurses and other medical professionals.

Technical specialist Lee Cauble says there are two distinct tracks that people can follow as dialysis technicians. One is direct patient care and the other is as an equipment and facility technician.

Sometimes there is crossover between the two tasks, says Cauble. In some clinics, dialysis technicians who work with the equipment also do patient care. Technicians must be prepared to do both.

dotThere are two types of dialysis. Hemodialysis involves removing the patient's blood and using a machine to filter and clean it. Peritoneal dialysis uses a solution, injected into the patient, to do the cleansing internally. Dialysis technicians usually perform both types of treatments.

dotAccording to the National Kidney Foundation, dialysis technicians may work at a hospital or clinic, or in a patient's home using a portable dialysis machine. Depending upon the severity of the disease, patients may require treatment as frequently as once a day. While patients once had to be connected to machines for up to 20 hours in a row, sessions today may be as short as one hour, thanks to technological advances.

dotThe National Kidney Foundation says dialysis technicians perform a wide range of roles. Starting before the patient arrives for treatment, the technician calibrates the dialysis machine and prepares sterile needles and tubing that will be used to connect the patient to the machine. The technician also tests the machine.

Other tasks may include writing reports, ordering supplies, disposing of medical waste and scheduling patient sessions.

dotMost technicians work regular hours. However, since some patients need dialysis on a daily basis, some weekend and evening work is required, especially for those involved in home visits.

dotPatients who come into the dialysis clinics for treatment are often very sick. Getting to know patients and observing the progression of their illnesses can be emotionally demanding for the technicians.

Renal technologist Denis Morgan says emotional involvement is common with technicians. They often get to know their patients over many years of repeat visits to the clinic. "When [patients] first come in, they are sick, but they look physically OK," he says. "What happens is, over a period of time, as they remain on dialysis, they somewhat deteriorate over the years."

At a Glance

Treat patients suffering from kidney disease

  • Certification is required in some places
  • Work in a hospital, clinic or patient's home
  • You'll need a strong science and math background