How to Become a Dialysis Technician - Education & Certification
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Dialysis technicians—also known as hemodialysis technicians—serve an important role in modern medicine. They are in daily contact with patients, ensuring that individuals living with renal diseases or permanent kidney failure are provided with the vital care they need to live their lives.
But what does dialysis mean, exactly? Dialysis is a means of replacing the functions of the kidneys for people whose own organs are no longer working properly. Because it’s the kidneys’ job to filter excess blood and fluids from the body, the loss of their function can be deadly if not properly treated. Dialysis machines essentially act as artificial kidneys for patients with renal failure or a disease that inhibits their kidney function.
The job of a dialysis technician is to supervise the proper functioning of the dialysis machine by maintaining and cleaning it, assisting patients with questions and concerns, and monitoring the dialysis process to ensure that it is working correctly. Because of this combination of responsibilities, dialysis technicians work at an intersection of technology and medical practice and learn a bit about both of these fields over the course of their careers.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) counts dialysis technicians in the category “clinical laboratory technologists and technicians,” rather than in their own separate statistics. Because of the aging population of the United States and an increasing number of patients with renal disease, the dialysis industry is expected to grow. According to the BLS, the greater category in which dialysis technicians are counted is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2021 and 2031, a pace that is much faster than the expected rate in many other industries.
Because of the wide availability of jobs and the growing demand for trained techs, individuals seeking employment as dialysis technicians should expect fairly robust job prospects. Because many certification programs require only a GED or high school diploma as a prerequisite, this career may interest a wide variety of people. This reference guide with step-by-step instructions on becoming a dialysis technician should help anyone considering a move into this industry.
Skills and Characteristics of a Successful Dialysis Technician
Dialysis technicians work all over the country and the world, in various settings. While the day-to-day may vary between locations and employers, there are a few characteristics that successful dialysis technicians will have in common.
Interest in working with people: Dialysis technicians work near patients and other healthcare providers, and are often the first line for questions from individuals being treated. Because of this fact, it’s important that aspiring technicians are comfortable interacting with a wide variety of people who may be experiencing some level of discomfort.
Aptitude for technology: Aside from dealing with patients, dialysis technicians are responsible for their machines’ maintenance and proper function. People with a good technological skill set or the desire to develop one will do well in this industry.
Ability to work long hours on your feet: A single dialysis technician may often assist several patients simultaneously, and be expected to rotate within their job site. As many dialysis clinics operate on a 12-hour shift schedule, this work is particularly suited to individuals with the necessary physical stamina.
Interest in the medical field: Kidney diseases are complex, and the care required for different patients can vary. Working as a dialysis technician is one of many popular entry points for individuals seeking a medical career. The more interest prospective dialysis techs have here, the better they will likely do in their work.
Becoming a Dialysis Technician – Role Requirements and Responsibilities
Individuals who are seeking to become dialysis technicians have several paths into the career and do not need manyprerequisites to enter the field. A college degree is not required to work as a dialysis technician.
However, in the United States, the role of a dialysis technician is a certified profession. These professionals need to be certified by one of three nationally accredited organizations to work in the field. Additionally, certain states and jurisdictions have their own sets of additional requirements that must be met to perform this job. Some employers offer opportunities for new dialysis technicians to train on the job and pay for the costs associated with certification.
Certifications are awarded by three different organizations in the United States:
- Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC)
- Nephrology Examiners Nursing and Technology (BONENT)
- National Nephrology Certification Organization (NNCO)
While there are some variations between these three certification processes and where they place their emphasis, all of them can be completed within the span of a single semester.
Licensing Requirements for Dialysis Technicians
In the US, dialysis technician is a licensed profession, and individuals seeking employment in the field must fulfill certain requirements within a set time frame to achieve them. While a few smaller bodies also provide certification, nearly all dialysis technicians go through one of these three bodies to attain their license: NNCC, BONENT, or NNCO. The three bodies offer slightly different programs, which are commonly known by their acronyms:
- Certified hemodialysis biomedical technician/technologist (CHBT)
- Certified hemodialysis technician/technologist (CHT)
- Certified clinical hemodialysis technician/technologist (CCHT)
The individual programs vary in their emphasis on certain aspects of dialysis. For example, students completing the CHBT program offered by BONENT often work in laboratory environments, while the CCHT credential features coursework to meet state requirements for treating patients with end-stage renal failure.
All certification processes require a minimum of six months of clinical experience and a set amount of hours of classroom instruction.
Salaries for Dialysis Technicians – How Much Do Dialysis Techs Make?
Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not count dialysis technicians in a category of their own, government numbers on the average salaries for dialysis technicians are not available.
However, the job site Indeed (2022) lists a dialysis technician’s average base hourly wage in the United States as $26.08 an hour. The same report shows significant variation in the salary range for this profession depending on the state. According to Indeed, a dialysis technician working in California can expect to earn 39 percent above the national average, while techs in Florida, Virginia, and Arizona will be paid 20 percent or less on average than their counterparts in the other states.
In comparison, the job and career site VelvetJobs.com places the average hourly pay for dialysis technicians at $22 an hour and yearly salaries between $52,500 and $78,600. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, the category to which dialysis technicians belong, earn an average annual salary of $56,910 with the following percentiles:
- 10th percentile: $30,280
- 25th percentile: $37,990
- 50th percentile (median): $57,800
- 75th percentile: $74,530
- 90th percentile: $79,340
Steps to Becoming A Dialysis Technician
While there will be some variation in people’s paths into the field, a few key steps will be the same across the board for all prospective dialysis technicians. The following steps make up the key components of this career path:
Step One: Attain a High School or Equivalency Diploma
With a few rare exceptions, all certification programs in the United States that award dialysis technicians require completing a high school diploma or its equivalent (GED). Students planning to go into the field after graduation can increase their hiring chances and aid their entry by taking STEM classes and familiarizing themselves with modern machinery. As a dialysis tech’s work combines medical expertise and mechanical knowledge, this combination can be especially fruitful.
Step Two: Choose a Training Program to Prepare for the Certification (Timeline Varies)
Prospective dialysis technicians have a choice between three primary certification programs which each have a slightly different emphasis: hemodialysis biomedical technician/technologist (CHBT), certified clinical hemodialysis technician/technologist (CCHT), and certified hemodialysis technician/technologist (CHT), the latter being the most general of the three. While all three certifications may be sufficient to work as a dialysis technician in many dialysis facilities across the United States, students hoping to work in a clinical or laboratory should choose the programs that fit their interests here.
Step Three: Complete the Required Clinical Hours or Approved Educational Program (One Year or More)
Prospective dialysis technicians must prove that they have completed a specified amount of clinical hours or an approved educational program with a clinical component to apply for their licensing exam.
For example, the BONENT credentialing process for certified hemodialysis technicians requires 12 months of clinical experience. Alternatively, students may attend one of the BONENT-approved programs offered by various institutions and organizations. Future dialysis technicians have the opportunity to complete these programs at community colleges across the country, and some private employers also offer the completion of clinical hours in concurrence with the workday.
The amount of time it takes to complete the required clinical hours can vary between certification bodies and the programs that students choose. For example, the clinical hemodialysis technician (CCHT) credential offered by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission (NNCC) requires only 1,000 hours of clinical experience before applying for the certification exam.
Step Four: Pass the Certification Exam
The second-to-last step on the path to becoming a dialysis technician in the United States is to pass the required certification exam. Again, the certification body and the program that students choose to attend will dictate a few specifics, but all exams consist of 150-250 multiple-choice questions that must be answered within a set time frame. Fees for these exams run between 225 and 250 dollars, and will sometimes be included in the cost of an educational program, or covered by an employer.
All exams feature sections about dialysis machine maintenance and sections geared toward the specific certification process they are testing for. While the certified hemodialysis technician (CHT) exam that is administered by BONENT has a large emphasis on patient care, the hemodialysis biomedical technician (CHBT) certification exam offered by the same organization features sections specific to this role, like physical plant management and quality assurance. Because CHBTs have little or no patient contact, patient care does not feature in the certification process at all.
Step Five: Attain State Credentialing (Varies by Region)
The fourth and final step in becoming a certified dialysis technician is specific from one state to the next. In addition to the certification process offered through one of the credentialing bodies, most jurisdictions require that dialysis techs also attain a certification or registration from the state or territory that they intend to work in. Because this process varies so much from one state to the next, there are no hard and fast rules regarding certification through the state.
For example, while Texas requires aspiring dialysis techs to sit an 80-question multiple-choice examination, other states simply demand the payment of an administrative fee, or have no additional certification requirements at all.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Certified Dialysis Technician?
Because the majority of dialysis centers today hire and train on the spot, becoming a dialysis technician can be a process that takes as long as the first workday at a dialysis site. However, to make a career in this field as a certified dialysis technician, individuals should commit at least six to 18 months of time to complete all necessary requirements for certification and state registration, provided they already have a high degree or its equivalent.
Because of the many opportunities for on-the-job training and programs through vocational schools and community colleges available, the path to becoming a certified dialysis technician can be fairly direct.