Transplant coordinators are involved in practically every aspect of organ procurement (getting the organ from the donor) and transplantation. There are two types of transplant coordinators: procurement coordinators and clinical coordinators. Procurement coordinators help the families of organ donors deal with the death of a loved one as well as inform them of the organ donation process. Clinical coordinators educate recipients about how to prepare for an organ transplant and how to care for themselves after the transplant.
History of Transplant Coordinator Career
Scientists have been conducting research regarding human and animal organ transplantation since the 18th century. Further research led to refinements in transplant technology, and in 1954, the first successful human kidney transplant was performed in Boston. The 1960s brought many successes in the field of organ transplants, including successful human liver and pancreas transplants. The first heart transplant was performed in 1967.
Despite these successes, many transplants eventually failed because of the body’s immune system, which eventually rejected the new organ as a foreign object. Although drugs were designed in the 1960s to help the body accept transplanted organs, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that a truly effective immunosuppressant drug, cyclosporin, was available. This drug substantially improved the success rate of transplant surgeries. More precise tissue typing or matching of donor and recipient tissues also helped increase the success rate.
Though successful organ transplants have increased, some transplants still fail over time despite modern drug treatments and closer tissue matching. Research in this area continues with the hope of increasing the rate of successful transplants.
The Job of Transplant Coordinators
Transplant coordinators are involved in practically every aspect of organ procurement (getting the organ from the donor) and transplantation. This may involve working with medical records, scheduling surgeries, educating potential organ recipients, and counseling donor families.
There are two types of transplant coordinators: procurement coordinators and clinical coordinators. Although procurement and clinical coordinators are actively involved in evaluating, planning, and maintaining records, an important part of their job is helping individuals and families. Procurement coordinators help the families of organ donors deal with the death of their loved one and inform them of the organ donation process.
Clinical coordinators educate recipients in how to best prepare for organ transplant and how to care for themselves after the transplant. Many coordinators, especially clinical coordinators, are registered nurses, but it is not necessary to have a nursing degree to work as a coordinator. Some medical background is important, however. Many transplant coordinators have degrees in biology, physiology, accounting, psychology, business administration, or public health.
Once the donor patient has been declared brain dead and is no longer breathing on his or her own, the procurement transplant coordinator approaches the donor’s family about organ donation. If the family gives its consent, the coordinator then collects medical information and tissue samples for analysis. The coordinator also calls the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a member organization that includes every transplant program, organ procurement organization (OPO), and tissue typing laboratory in the United States. The UNOS attempts to match organs with recipients within the OPO’s region. If no local match can be made, the coordinator must make arrangements for the organs to be delivered to another state. In either case, the procurement coordinator schedules an operating room for the removal of the organs and coordinates the surgery.
Once the organs have been removed and transported, clinical transplant coordinators take over. Clinical transplant coordinators have been involved in preparing recipients for new organs. It is the clinical coordinators’ job to see to the patients’ needs before, during, and after organ transplants. This involves admitting patients, contacting surgeons, and arranging for operating rooms, as well as contacting the anesthesiology department and the blood bank. Transplant coordinators educate patients and arrange for blood tests and other tests to make sure patients can withstand the rigors of surgery. They help patients register on organ waiting lists. They ensure that patients have a support system of family, friends, and caregivers in place. After the transplants, coordinators help patients through their recovery by helping them understand their medications, arranging for routine doctor visits and lab tests, and informing them about danger signs of organ rejection.
Another significant aspect of the job of all transplant coordinators is educating the public about the importance of organ donation. They speak to hospital and nursing school staffs and to the general public to encourage donations.
Transplant Coordinator Career Requirements
High school courses that will prepare you for a medical-based education will be the most valuable in this profession. Science courses such as biology and chemistry are important, as are courses in psychology, sociology, math, and health.
If you live near a transplant center, there may be volunteer opportunities available at the center or in an outpatient care home for transplant recipients. Your local Red Cross also may need volunteers for promoting donor awareness.
There is no specific educational track for transplant coordinators. One transplant coordinator may focus on financing and insurance, while another may work on education and awareness. Another coordinator may perform physical tests and evaluations, while another counsels grieving families. The more experience and education with health care and medicine you have, the better your job opportunities. Although a nursing degree isn’t required of all coordinators, it does give you a good medical background. A bachelor’s degree in one of the sciences, along with experience in a medical setting, will also open up job opportunities. Some people working as coordinators may have master’s degrees in public health or in business administration. Other coordinators may hold doctorates in psychology or social work.
Certification or Licensing
Certification, though not required, is available through the American Board for Transplant Certification. To qualify for certification, you must have completed a year of full-time work as a coordinator.
There are two separate tests given—one for clinical transplant coordinators and one for procurement transplant coordinators. Both tests cover all organs and ask questions about analysis, treatment, and education of patients.
To be a successful transplant coordinator, you should have good organizational skills and be able to work quickly, accurately, and efficiently. You must be a detail-oriented person and have good record-keeping and reporting skills. A transplant coordinator needs to be a compassionate person who is able to communicate well with doctors, patients, donors’ families, and the public.
Exploring Transplant Coordinator Career
To learn more about the work of transplant coordinator, research the organ transplant process as much as possible. The Internet and your local library are great resources for information. Talk to your school’s guidance counselor about your possible interest in health care. He or she may be able to suggest different programs to research or, better yet, give you names of previous students to talk to who have gone on to medical programs. Volunteering at local hospitals or health care clinics can give you experience working with patients.
Because much of a transplant coordinator’s job involves communicating with patients and their family members during times of high stress, you should explore your interest and talent in counseling and social work in addition to medicine.
A number of different institutions and organizations require transplant coordinators. In addition to the 258 transplant centers across the country, there are 62 organ procurement organizations and more than 160 tissue-typing labs. These organizations and centers may be hospital-based, independent, or university-based.
Positions for transplant coordinators are advertised nationally in medical publications and on the Internet. The North American Transplant Coordinators Organization also offers job referral information.
Many transplant coordinators begin their professional careers in other areas such as nursing, business, psychology, social work, or the sciences before they seek a career as a transplant coordinator.
There may be internal advancement opportunities within a clinic such as senior coordinator or senior educator. Other managerial or supervisory positions may also be a way of advancing within the career. There are other aspects of transplantation, such as surgery or hospital administration, which may be available with additional education and experience.
Salaries vary based on educational background, experience, and responsibilities of the coordinator. People who have a degree and work as directors or educators may earn a higher salary than those working at the clinical end. Many transplant coordinators are registered nurses. Salaries are comparable to those of registered nurses in other fields. Median annual earnings of registered nurses were $54,670 in 2005 (according to the U.S. Department of Labor), and ranged from less than $38,660 to more than $79,460. Some transplant coordinators are physician assistants, who had median annual earnings of $72,030 in 2005.
Although transplant centers and organ procurement agencies are nonprofit organizations, transplant coordinators generally receive very good health and retirement benefits that are consistent with other medical professions.
Transplant coordinators can be found doing their jobs in various environments. They may be in an office completing paperwork, in a hospital visiting with patients, families, or other hospital staff, in a clinic or doctor’s office seeing patients, or at a school or business meeting promoting donor awareness. Sometimes coordinators must accompany the organ to the transplant center, and some may be required to be on call and to work long, irregular hours.
Transplant Coordinator Career Outlook
The number of people waiting for organ donations is increasing, but there still is a need to find an increased number of donors. Therefore, a number of organizations have been developed to promote organ donations, particularly among minorities. These efforts require the skills of transplant coordinators. Because the stress level of the job is high, the burnout rate is also high. Also, because procurement coordinators’ hours can be long and irregular, many procurement coordinators move on to other positions after only 18 months or less. This means continued job opportunities for those looking for work as coordinators.