Exploring this Job
To learn more about the work of transplant coordinators, research the organ transplant process as much as possible. The Internet and local libraries are great resources for information. Talk to your school's career services office about your possible interest in health care. They may be able to suggest different programs to research or, better yet, provide the names of previous students to talk to who have gone on to medical programs. Volunteering at local hospitals or health care clinics provides experience in working with patients.
Much of a transplant coordinator's job involves communicating with patients and their family members during times of high stress, so it is beneficial to explore counseling and social work in addition to medicine.
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. Procurement and clinical coordinators are actively involved in evaluating, planning, and maintaining records, but 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 their 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.