When your mother responds to your career plans with “you want to be a what-ologist?” you know you’ll have to spend some time filling her in. She would know about more familiar specialties such as cardiologist and oncologist, but you're talking about being a nephrologist? You could start by telling her you want to be a doctor, an internal medicine specialist. In fact, you want to help people whose kidneys aren't working well. She might smile when you tell her the American Medical Group Management Association reported nephrologists earned an average of $259,776 in 2010.
You could start by telling Mom that “nephros” means kidney in Greek. You could go on to explain that a nephrologist starts out in internal medicine. In fact, nephrology is considered a specialty of internal medicine, and before you can even start on that part of your career, you must spend at least 11 years in college, medical school and residency. Then, you must pass the American Board of Internal Medicine certification exam. Once you’ve aced that last test, you go back to school for two to three years in an accredited nephrology fellowship.
What Nephrologists Do
At this point, tell Mom what nephrologists do. The kidneys are the waste filtering system in your body; when they don’t work, all kinds of toxic stuff can build up in your blood stream. Nephrologists treat and manage people who have kidney problems such as glomerular or tubular disorders, high blood pressure, kidney failure and kidney transplants. Nephrologists also learn to deal with mineral metabolism, because the kidneys excrete a number of important minerals. Nutrition is also an important part of managing someone with kidney disease.
Tell Mom you’ll be ordering blood and urine tests, or special diagnostics tests such as kidney ultrasound, which is a kind of picture of the kidneys. Although a nephrologist isn’t a surgeon, you might perform a kidney biopsy to see what’s wrong. When a patient has kidney failure, you’ll be the doctor who manages his dialysis treatment, which means you’ll see him fairly frequently to adjust medications or make changes in the dialysis treatment. You might also refer a patient to a social worker or other dialysis professional who can help with his care.
Nephrologists may work in private practice or with a group of other physicians. You’ll probably want to become certified in nephrology, which means another examination, and you’ll need to keep up on continuing education to maintain that certification. Besides, it gives Mom something else to brag about. Many nephrologists get involved in the management of a dialysis center, writing policies and procedures for patient care. You might even open your own dialysis center and become a business owner -- and won’t that make Mom proud!
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.