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A Day in the Life: Pediatric Kidney Transplant Manager

A Day in the Life: Pediatric Kidney Transplant Manager

Working in transplant programs can be challenging as life can move quite slowly for waiting patients and then suddenly speed up when an organ becomes available.

But have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in pediatric transplants?

We interviewed Gerri James, RN, BSN, CCTC (Certified Clinical Transplant Coordinator), manager of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health , and she told us all about what her job entails.

What follows is our interview, edited for length and clarity. 

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Gerri James, RN, BSN, CCTC, manager of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

How did you get interested in working with the pediatric kidney transplant program? 

I started my nursing career on a surgical floor at a large academic program on the East Coast. We cared for patients waiting for organ transplants (liver and kidney) and those who had received transplants. Once I cared for these patients, I was hooked.  

What drew you to it? 

Transplantation is a fascinating and rewarding field! Witnessing the patients receive a second chance at life was–and still is–amazing. Transplantation is a miracle that, unfortunately, not every patient experiences.

How long have you been doing it? 

 I’ve been involved in transplants for approximately 35 years.

Please explain what you do as the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Manager. What types of patients do you serve—what ages and how are they approved to be in the program? 

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health has one of the country’s biggest and busiest pediatric kidney transplant programs. We care for patients from birth to up to age 18. For the newborns, we follow them closely until they are appropriate for a transplant evaluation. 

What do you provide for them? 

At the time of the referral to our Kidney Transplant Program, we reached out to the family to introduce ourselves and explain what to expect. We are meeting them at a very vulnerable and terrifying time of their lives. A big part of the conversation is deceased donor vs. living donor options.

We walk them through the evaluation process, the wait for a transplant, the transplant event, and their post-transplant life. My team also collaborates with many other disciplines to assist with travel and lodging, consults with other services, etc.–all in hopes of making the experience as easy as possible.

As the Transplant Manager, I wear many different hats. Transplantation is highly regulated and has many rules, and part of my job is to ensure we keep up with changes. I manage a large pre- and post-transplant team and participate in various meetings throughout the day. My role is unique as I have a full patient assignment (recipients and potential living kidney donors) and my manager’s responsibilities. My first love is patient care; I wouldn’t want to give it up!

Did you need to get additional education for this position? 

I had on-the-job training right out of nursing school. I was lucky enough to work at a world-renowned transplant center. Attending conferences is also imperative to keeping up-to-date on the latest in transplantation, an ever-evolving field. I learned and continue to learn from the very best every day!

What do you like most about working in your job? 

Every day is different, and there is always something to learn. I have the honor of helping parents/guardians navigate an unfamiliar world. Often, when they hear that their child needs a kidney transplant, they are devastated. I try to make this new journey a little less terrifying. Providing education and letting them know they are never alone is a big part of what I do.

What are your biggest challenges as the transplant manager? 

Time—there never seems to be enough of it. Another challenge is the lack of organ donors that are allocated to pediatric patients. Not every donor is appropriate for every child.

Many nurses might think this would be a tough job–how do you get through that? 

This is a tough job. It’s always hard to watch a child with a chronic illness. But, luckily in kidney transplants, most of the children do well and go on to enjoy a life free of dialysis.

However, most children will go on to need a second and maybe a third kidney transplant in their lifetime. We help prepare the families for future transplants while planning the first. 

What are your greatest rewards in your work? 

Watching a child not expected to survive, walk, or thrive running down the clinic hallway to hug me is incredible. Getting a graduation announcement or any big event following a transplant. Hearing how the family celebrates not needing dialysis, going on vacations, and living their best lives. I’m always so proud of these children and all of their accomplishments!

Anything else to add?

No one ever wants their child/loved one to need a transplant. I am blessed to be able to guide them through the process and take some of the stress away. I often tell the families, “Let me worry about that part. You have enough on your plate.”

Meeting the family where they are in the process is critical to a successful and trusting relationship. Educating them as to what to expect and being honest that the journey will have some bumps in the road is key.

Transplantation is a miracle and life-changing for those fortunate enough to receive an organ, as not everyone gets this opportunity due to the shortage of organs. Transplantation is a fascinating and rewarding field that significantly impacts patients’ and their families’ lives. Sign up to be an organ donor—it’s the greatest gift you’ll ever give!