Nephrology News & Issues (NN&I) article What’s in a name? A technician’s perspective

What’s in a name? A technician’s perspective

Mention the term “patient care technician” outside the dialysis community and a variety of roles and definition will be given.


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Venture beyond the dialysis environment and the role of physicians, dietitians and social worker are well understood and recognized. There is no ambiguity to those that hear the title as to the duties and responsibilities of these professionals. Those in each of these professional disciplines participates in the care of the patient with renal disease. But they’re not labeled as Patient Care Physician, Patient Care Dietitian, or Patient Care Social Worker; they’re identified as nephrologist, renal dietitian, renal social worker.

Mention the term “patient care technician” outside the dialysis community and a variety of roles and definition will be given. The typical perception, however, would be nothing related to dialysis. Hospital settings and medical office settings utilize individuals with that title. These individuals provide critical and valuable assistance to the acute health care team. The following three paragraphs are definitions for “patient care technicians” obtained from online search with the key word “define patient care technician:”

Patient care technicians tend to ill and injured individuals under the supervision of doctors, nurses, and medical professionals. Their duties include taking vital signs, collecting specimens, performing catheterization and assisting patients with eating, personal hygiene and grooming. They also take notes and make assessments on their care. Patient care technicians often work in hospitals, clinics or rehabilitation facilities. They may use their training and experience to pursue more advanced health care careers.

A patient care technician (PCT) is mainly focused on working closely with patients, in conjunction with nurses. PCTs, sometimes referred to as nursing assistants, help perform basic care for patients, such as assisting them in using the restroom, serving meals or changing bedding. They may also monitor vital signs and provide emotional support to patients and families. (Rasmussen College and on-line medical dictionary)

Supports the work of the Registered Nurse to meet the needs of the patients in order to provide safe, quality care.

(Job Opening Posting – Kaiser Permanente).

A new definition for dialysis

Technicians in dialysis care perform and practice so much more than these standard definitions. Technicians are a partner and not assistants in delivering patient care in a life-sustaining treatment that is procedurally intensive, that may and do require immediate critical thinking and reaction, that require skill in invasive procedure, understanding medication dosing and administration (e.g., heparin, normal saline), applying physics principles of diffusion, osmosis and ultrafiltration, comprehension of physiological changes with change in volume and shift in electrolytes, and so very much more. The duties are extensive from delivering the dialysis treatment, vascular access management, anemia management, water purification, materials management, equipment maintenance and repairs, assisting with patient education and more. Technicians are passionate in the care given to the dialysis patients. The relationship that grows between the technician and the patient inevitably becomes very close; dare it be said, almost “family-like.”  The trust and familiarity that develop is the product from being the major front-line staff that patients relegate their safety and outcomes to multiple times each week.

Earning our place

Have we technicians not earned our place in the renal community? Have we not earned a title that is not a generic title that is shared in the health care community? The premier technician organization presented at their annual conference and in their newsletter a position that technicians be referred to by two titles that project pride and professionalism that would clearly designate us as being dialysis professionals: Nephrology Clinical Technicians (NCT), for those involved in direct patient care, and Nephrology Biomedical Technicians (NBT), for those involved in facility and technical management.

Industry, agencies, and individuals will undoubtedly be resistant to considering this change. But, mandated certification has moved the technician practice from strictly an on-the-job training attitude to a much more formal requirement for standardized training and validation of competency.

It is time to designate technicians with a formal and professional title and not one of a generic health care title.

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