The Monday Interview - "So, what's it really like working as a... renal dialysis nurse?"

dialysis nurse

Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.

Now I’ve dealt with, quite literally, hundreds of clients over the years - both young people and career changers - who are pursuing a career in nursing. Despite reports of increasing responsibilities and stressful working environments (which I’m not by any means denying) there appears to be no shortage of people choosing this particular career option.

But think of nursing jobs and I’m sure you will think immediately of the work done in NHS hospitals - maybe in private hospitals, at a push. Today’s contributor manages to shine a whole new light on the working possibilities of healthcare professionals. Sharon is a renal dialysis nurse and for the last year has been working directly for a charity which provides holiday accommodation for dialysis patients. And she explains in her interview the daunting yet rewarding challenges that face a nurse who works outside of the usual team support structures.

Sharon, thanks so much for sharing information with us on the hugely important work that you do.


So, briefly, what is your job?

“I work for the West London Hospitals Holiday Dialysis Trust - www.stannesdialysis.co.uk I am the nurse manager of the dialysis unit (& indeed the only nurse at the unit!) I arrange for any renal patients to come to St Anne’s for a holiday. I then co-ordinate their care while they are on holiday and provide their haemodialysis. I am responsible for managing the staff employed & the day to day running of the unit (maintenance, training etc).”

How did you get into it?

“I was told at school I was too stupid to do what I wanted so I should go in to care work!!! I then worked at a nursing home to gain my NVQs & from this applied to university. I qualified in 1999 as a nurse & worked in a haemodialysis unit for 3 years before completing my specialised nurse training course. I qualified as a specialist renal nurse in 2002 & worked in the NHS until last year as a senior staff nurse. I then applied for a job working for a charity providing holiday dialysis for patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go on holiday.”

Describe a typical day.

“I arrive at 6.30am and prepare all the dialysis machines for use - this includes disinfecting the equipment and putting all the tubing on the machines. The patients arrive from 7.45am and after a quick assessment are cannulated or have their central lines accessed in order for them to go on dialysis. Once the patient is on dialysis we check their blood pressure, pulse & ensure the machine is doing what it should hourly. In between these times general unit cleaning & on-going maintenance is carried out alongside staff training, disposables ordering, liaising with dialysis units regarding future patientss, invoicing NHS units for previous patients dialysis & anything else I can think of!

The patient is then taken off dialysis, made sure they are ok & discharged. Then it’s time for a thorough clean of the unit & preparing it for the next session. Then the other staff go home & I catch up on paperwork. After that, home time!”

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“Not working for the NHS & being the boss! I love the patient contact & being able to provide a fabulous & valuable service for patients who otherwise would never go on holiday.

Also, becoming the patient’s friend - it is a very different kind of nursing in that the relationship you develop with your patients is very personal.”

And the least?

“The huge level of responsibility - we don’t have any doctors at the unit so if a patient is ill it is up to me to assess and treat, which can be scary when first faced with it (although I do love the responsibility too!)

Getting to know the patients very well and then unfortunately them passing away - it can be absolutely heart breaking.”

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

“I’m not sure people really know what I do so, I don’t think they have any misconceptions - although my husband ( who is also a nurse) thinks I just come in to work for a coffee & a chat!”

What are the main skills you need to work as a call taking manager?

“A nursing qualification. An interest in renal nursing and a good sense of humour. Also, no fear of blood - there is lots of it!!”

Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.

“Nursing as a profession is not the best paid, but it’s certainly not the worst, and with career progression it can be financially rewarding. In the NHS there is a pension scheme which can be opted into.

The job satisfaction is the greatest pull in keeping people in nursing - the patients and their response to you makes you realise that the job is very much worthwhile.

We also get chocolates form the patients occasionally at Christmas which is nice too!!

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

“Try to do a placement on a dialysis/renal unit before applying for a job - it seems to be a bit like marmite in that some people adore the job & some can’t cope with it. You need to make sure you can cope with lots of blood in particular. Speak to specialist nurses - it is very difficult to go back to ‘general nursing’ when you have entered in to a speciality - especially one as specialised as dialysis.

The pressures on nurses qualifying today are greater than when I qualified & the general level of staffing on wards can lead to burn-out & a great deal of stress. You have to consider that nursing is shift work - it’s no good going in to it if you want to work 9-5 - you will have to work weekends & nights.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

“Hopefully still doing the same job - I love what I do & couldn’t think of doing anything else. A lottery win wouldn’t go amiss though!”

AND JUST FOR FUN…

First in the office or last to leave?

“Both (we only have 3 clinical staff members).”

Tea or coffee?

“Coffee - and lots of it.”

Staff canteen or packed lunch?

“No canteen, so Weightwatchers soup it is!”

The lift or the stairs?

“Definitely lift - no one wants to see a 30 something gasping for breath.”

Out after work or straight home to bed?

“Two kids under the age of 7, so no going out for me.”