Dialysis treatment is prescribed for patients in varying stages of kidney failure -- which basically means their kidneys are no longer able to clear harmful toxins from their blood. A dialysis technician operates the dialysis equipment and monitors the patient during treatment. This individual -- she might also be called a hemodialysis or nephrology technician -- typically works in a hospital or clinic under the supervision of a nurse or physician.
How Does Dialysis Work?
Dialysis machines essentially clean blood with dialysate -- a fluid made up of electrolytes, minerals, purified water and bicarbonate. The patient reclines near the machine and is intravenously connected to it for treatment. IV tubing pushes the patient's blood through the machine -- which siphons out the toxins and monitors blood flow, temperature and its mixture with the dialysate. Once the filtering process is complete, the machine then pumps the cleaned blood right back into the patient's body.
Hands-On Patient Care
A dialysis technician develops relationships with patients who come for treatment several days a week for several hours at a time. Though a nurse will be on hand to assist with general care, the technician is the one performing the actual treatment. She monitors vital signs, administers anesthesia, inserts the dialysis needle and begins the treatment. The technician then monitors the patient's status, keeping an eye on the blood chemistry to make sure dialysis is working and toxins are being cleaned properly.
In addition to hands-on patient interaction, the dialysis technician is also in charge of maintaining the dialysis machine and related equipment before, during and after treatments. Dialysis equipment is designed with a number of alarms and other notifications to alert the technician in the event of patient distress or system failure. It is her job to troubleshoot and, if possible, resolve the issues so treatment can continue as prescribed.
Because she spends a great deal of time working with patients who are very ill, the dialysis technician must be able to remain empathetic and compassionate. Strong verbal and written communication skills are a must -- not only because the technician interacts with other health care professionals, but also because she is typically the one to field patients' questions about treatment. The tests and equipment depend upon minute measurements and calibrations, so dialysis technicians must also be very detail-oriented and analytical problem-solvers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most medical technicians work a full-time schedule -- and this typically includes availability during evening, weekend and overnight hours. The dialysis technician is on her feet for long periods of time and is often called upon to assist with repositioning or moving patients during treatment.
Education and Certification Requirements
According to the National Kidney Foundation, a dialysis technician should at least have attained a high school diploma or the equivalent. They also must have successfully completed a state-approved dialysis certificate -- which is available at many vocational colleges, technical schools and medical training facilities. Some clinics and hospitals might also require on-the-job training.
Based in Tampa, Fla., Danielle Fernandez been writing, editing and illustrating all things technology, lifestyle and education since 1999. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Tribune, Working Mother magazine, and a variety of technical publications, including BICSI's "Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual." Fernandez holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of South Florida.