Staff spotlight: specialist nurses for organ donation

 Specialist nurses for organ donation

Rachel and David are specialist nurses for organ donation, offering education to staff about the organ donation process and helping families that are confronted with the choice of what to do when their loved ones pass away.

'Both of us have a background in critical care – in the emergency department and intensive care – which is actually a requirement for the role. Due to the nature of the patients we are caring for and the conversations needed to be had with families, that experience is really valuable.

'Our role is quite multifaceted. There’s the embedded role, where we’re based in the hospital to be available to assess patients. In that time we sometimes undertake teaching sessions, offering education to the intensive care units and emergency department about donation and the process. Then we have the on-call role, where we go out to other hospitals around the south central region – anywhere from the Isle of Wight to Northampton – to help facilitate the process in those areas too.

'Donation isn’t for everyone – our role isn’t about getting all families to say yes to donation; it’s about helping these families to make an informed choice. We’re not here to coerce or persuade people that donation is what they must do. We’re here to make sure they have all the information they need to make a balanced decision and support whatever choice they make.'

If you’re a nurse thinking about specialising in organ donation, Rachel’s advice is to be proactive.

'Think about what you could do on your unit – contact your specialist nursing team and ask for information. Be a link nurse for your area. We don’t just work with link nurses in the intensive care units and emergency department, but with wards across the hospital, where patients can donate tissues. If you think you can do something proactive about that, get in touch with us, because we’re more than happy to provide support and advice.'

Last year in the UK, over 1500 people donated their organs, resulting in over 5000 recipients receiving transplants. At University Hospital Southampton, 36 people were able to donate their organs, saving 111 lives.

'It’s a testament to those families that, at that difficult time in their lives, thought of other people – and the staff that supported them with that.

'I feel very passionately about providing good end of life care in the Trust, and having organ donation discussions as part of that care is really important to me. The most important thing to us is having a specialist nurse present for these conversations with families, because we have the information they need and we know what we can offer that family.

'On average, three people per day are dying because they are unable to get a transplant – and this is preventable. I’m driven by the thought that I can do something to change this, to stop those people dying. Every day is so different, and I never stop enjoying the challenge. It’s inspiring to meet with so many amazing families that are prepared to do something like this at such a difficult time.

'The role definitely has its highs and lows. We have an amazing team who are very good at supporting one another through the difficult times, and we recognise the importance of looking after ourselves in the midst of caring for others, too. But even when it’s hard, you’ll hear from a family who have found comfort in passing on the legacy of a loved one, and that is incredibly rewarding.'