What Is a Transplant Nurse?

A transplant nurse cares for patients who are receiving or donating organs via a transplant surgical procedure. They prepare living donors who volunteer to donate organs and tissues for transplant and educate them on the procedure, recovery and risks. Transplant nurses also care for patients who receive organs by preparing patients for surgery, assisting during the procedure and providing post-operative care, including monitoring for complications like organ rejection.

Becoming a Transplant Nurse

As with other nursing careers, the first step in becoming a transplant nurse is to complete an Associate's Degree in Nursing or Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree to gain a general nursing education. For nurses hoping to specialize in organ and tissue transplant, it is especially important to take medical-surgical courses and gain experience in critical care and intensive care. Once a nurse has completed schooling, they must pass the NCLEX-RN exam before beginning work as a transplant nurse. Once a transplant nurse has been working as an RN for two years, including 12 months of direct involvement in the care of organ transplant patients, he or she may take the Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse Certification exam offered by the American Board for Transplant Certification.

A typical job posting for a transplant nurse position would likely include the following qualifications, among others specific to the type of employer and location:

  • ADN or BSN degree and valid RN license
  • Basic Life Support Certification required, Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse Certification preferred
  • Strong communication skills for educating organ donors, recipients and their families about transplant procedures, including post-operative care and the risks associated with transplant surgeries
  • Proficiency in computer programs and data entry for maintaining patient records
  • Experience in critical care, operating room procedures and/or intensive care

To search and apply for current transplant nurse positions, visit our job boards.

What Are the Education Requirements for Transplant Nurses?

Transplant nurses are generally required to have completed an ADN or BSN degree, with a BSN degree preferred. They also must hold a valid RN license in the state in which they plan to practice. During the nursing education, an aspiring transplant nurse should be sure to take medical-surgical courses, as well as gain training in critical care and intensive care settings.

Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?

While not required for many transplant nursing positions, RNs who wish to specialize in organ and tissue transplant nursing may consider becoming a Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse. The American Board for Transplant Certification offers this certification exam, which is open to RNs who have completed at least two years of experience as an RN and at least 12 months experience of direct involvement in the care of organ transplant patients. This certification offers RNs a competitive edge when seeking employment or advancement as a transplant nurse. Also, because most transplant nurses work with patients in a critical care setting, most transplant nurse positions require RNs to hold a Basic Life Support Certification, such as the one offered by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross.

Where Do Transplant Nurses Work?

Transplant nurses generally work with donors and recipients and their families in the following settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Ambulatory surgical units
  • Specialized organ transplant facilities

What Does a Transplant Nurse Do?

A transplant nurse assists in every phase of the organ and tissue donation process, from the preparation phase to the donation procedure to recovery and discharge. They prepare living donors for the donation surgery, including educating them on the procedure, recovery process and risks associated with donation. They also assist with deceased donors by monitoring and preparing the donor's body for surgery. Transplant nurses also may assist surgeons during the transplant procedure by preparing the operating room and/or instruments, ensuring sterile and safe operating room conditions and monitoring the patient's vital signs.

A large part of the transplant nurse's job is caring for organ recipients. Transplant nurses care for patients who need to receive tissues and organs, prepare them for the surgical procedure and provide post-operative care, including monitoring them for complications from surgery like organ rejection. As part of the post-operative care, transplant nurses administer medications and dress wounds, as well as educate patients on how to recover at home.

What Are the Roles and Duties of a Transplant Nurse?

  • Collect medical histories for donors and recipients, order lab tests to confirm a donor match and clear patients and donors for surgery
  • Prepare donors and recipients for surgery, including educating them on the risks associated with organ and tissue donation
  • Assist surgeons during transplant and harvest procedures
  • Provide post-operative care for patients, including monitoring vital signs and for complications such as infection or organ rejection
  • Provide discharge instructions for patients when they are ready to return home

Transplant Nurse Salary & Employment

The demand for organ transplants is high in the U.S., with more than 100,000 people awaiting donors in the U.S. according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. This has led to a significant growth in demand for medical professionals trained in organ transplantation. The median wage for registered nurses as a whole is $68,450 annually according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and nurses with specialized skills and knowledge may earn even higher incomes. While salary may vary based on geographic location, education level and years of experience, relevant certifications, such as the Certified Clinical Transplant Nurse Certification, can also help nurses earn higher pay.

Helpful Organizations, Societies, and Agencies

Transplant Nurse FAQs

New nurses, or even student nurses, looking to get into the specialty of transplant nursing should have either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Many employers prefer a BSN as transplant nurses may also function as a type of case manager for transplant patients. However, employer requirements may vary, so nurses should research job postings for minimum requirements.

Focusing on critical care or perioperative care is also important, as transplant nurses may care for patients pre-and post-transplant. Recovery after an organ or tissue transplant requires intensive care, and nurses need to be familiar with signs and symptoms of rejection, as well as other common post-op complications.

Nurses should also be certified in basic life support (BLS) as well as advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) if working inpatient. Other requirements may include pediatric life support (PALS). While not required, nurses may become certified as a Clinical Transplant Nurse through the American Board for Transplant Certification.

New nurses should not be deterred from searching for careers in the transplant specialty. Thorough research on individual job requirements, frequent job searches, and obtaining the minimum educational requirements and certifications will help get new nurses into this specialty.