Organ Procurement and Nursing
What is an OPN, Organ Procurement Nurse? In this article, the author describes the process of organ donation and the nurses that specialize in this field.
As I clicked “submit” I felt a sense of satisfaction, knowing that my desire to be an organ donor was duly noted and registered appropriately. Although I had previously let my family know of my wishes, making it even more official with the on-line sign up felt like the right thing to do.
Registering to be an organ donor has become an almost effortless process with new website proliferation and making it do-able with a few clicks. Signing the back of a driver’s license is also good, but going the extra step helps ensure that nothing gets lost during a critical time.
My renewed interest in organ donation happened because of a conversation with a friend whose son died and had previously expressed an interest in being a donor. Because of the donation, his family has the comfort of knowing that even now, 20 years later, parts of their son’s body continue to bless others.
As organ donation has continued to grow each year, having nurses work in organ procurement has become even more important. In years past, many criteria such as cancer, age and infection made the possibility of donation seem more remote. Times have changed. There are virtual no conditions that completely contraindicate donation. Everyone who is willing should be considered a potential donor. The numbers of willing donors have not kept pace with the needs for organs and tissues. However, the use of internet and social media have greatly accelerated the pace of people willing to sign up and share their status as someone who is willing to give the gift of life.
Jill Grandas, nurse and Executive Director for Tennessee Donor Services, points out that nursing plays a vital role in the organ procurement field, helping to make organ transplantation a reality for many. “Nurses are very supportive. I have found that in general, when nurses understand all the potential benefits involved, they are willing to bend over backwards to facilitate the process of organ donation. There are just so many positives.”
Grandas points out that one person can potentially help almost 100 people. “There are 8 major organs that can be transplanted: heart, kidneys, lungs, pancreas, liver and small bowel, in addition to a variety of tissues.”
Nurses that work in Organ Procurement generally start out as ICU nurses where they learn basic principles of hemodynamics and also the care of the severely injured person who is declared brain dead. Grandas herself worked in the Neuro Intensive Care for a couple of years before beginning her work with organ procurement. Now, 30 years later, she feels it is a true calling. “It is probably one of the more autonomous areas of work that you can have in nursing. You are independent from the transplant center and from the hospital but we serve as the connection or the bridge between the two. there is a tremendous amount of satisfaction in doing this type of work.”
Grandas emphasizes that “It is very rewarding when you see the family having something positive happen from their bad event.”
Organ Procurement nurses start out in staff positions which require them to respond quickly to the hospital (usually within an hour) if a potential donation is called in. “There is always something different. Every day is a new challenge. When the nurses are called to the hospital they help care for the patient until all the processes are in place.” The OPN has many family interactions, works closely with the physician and unit nurse followed by working with the OR and the transplant team.
OPNs appreciate working collaboratively with nurses in the hospital. While facility nurses are not to begin the discussion of organ donation, a positive attitude regarding helping others through donation can enhance the whole process. Generally OPNs encounter lots of support when they step onto a unit to begin the discussion about donation with the family.
Nurses who want to become specialists in helping families through this process can seek out entry level positions with great prospects for receiving specialized training as they move forward. There are numerous certifications available in this growing field, one that lends itself especially well to the technically proficient nurse who is also sensitive and willing to learn how to talk with families in crisis.
I asked Grandas what she would want to tell nurses that are interested in pursuing employment in this specialized area, “We need people who are ready to learn and who like to employ their critical thinking skills.” She added, “It’s a great field in nursing because of the degree of autonomy that it affords.” With extra emphasis she concluded, “Above all, I would tell them to sign up on line to be a donor. They can even click to share it on Facebook if they wish!”Last edit by Joe V on Oct 19, '17
Joy works at a Parish Nurse and a part time hospice nurse. She enjoys hiking, cooking and loving on her grandchildren.
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