Protecting Kidneys as a Nephrologist

We only need one, but these two organs are essential for maintaining a clean body.

The human kidney plays a vital role for clean and healthy living. Namely, it is responsible for toxin removal and blood filtration. Our survival depends on this function so much the average person actually has two kidneys, so we have one to spare!

To provide care for this pair of organs, we developed the field of Nephrology. This medical field focuses heavily on kidney care, disease treatment, and other issues that may arise. Doctors working in this field are referred to as Nephrologists.

Patients rely on these doctors to find out if and why their kidneys are not working properly, possible treatments, and other useful information.

What Nephrologists Do

Nephrologists are usually called in by a primary care physician or by the patient directly. When the initial meeting occurs, the first step is to do a complete physical and go over the patient's medical history and current symptoms. Next, blood and urine tests are conducted. These provide key insights into the kidneys’ ability to function properly.

Depending on the results, an ultrasound of the kidneys may be taken. If a diagnosis is not found at this point, or if the ultrasound is inconclusive, a kidney biopsy is likely needed. The actual surgery, however, is not part of the nephrologist's job.

If it is determined that patient is suffering from a kidney-related disease, Nephrologists will conduct additional tests to determine the best course of action. Once a treatment plan is laid out, Nephrologists are likely to continue seeing their patients on an ongoing basis. Follow up visits can be weekly, monthly, or an even longer duration.

During these sessions, kidney doctors check the patient's status, address new issues, run additional tests, and more, depending on how the treatments are going.

What Nephrologist Treat

It may come as a surprise to learn that kidney stones are not actually treated by Nephrologists. They are typically only discovered by them. That said, there is a wide range of kidney issues that Nephrologists do address, such as the following.

  • Hypertension - Kidneys make too much renin causing blood pressure to rise
  • Nephrotic Syndrome – The kidneys do not remove appropriate amount of toxins from blood
  • Pyelonephritis - Inflammation due to bacterial infection
  • Polycystic - Genetic disorder where cysts form within the kidneys leading to high blood pressure and organ failure

These medical issues can produce similar side-effects which can make things difficult. Fortunately, Nephrologists are trained to systematically filter out possible diagnoses and identify what ails the patient.

How to Become a Kidney Doctor

The first step toward your career as a Nephrologist is to earn a bachelor's degree. Although a specific type of BA is not mandated, earning one in a science-related field will help you get into med school.

Once you've earned your degree, it's time to take the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT. Those that score well on this test, have a high GPA, and have logged volunteer hours at their local clinic have a higher chance of getting accepted into medical school on the first try.

During the 4 years in med school, students will learn about internal medicine. Specifically, two years in class and two in the field. Next up is a 3-year residency, where students work side-by-side with those already in the field.

This time frame will prep soon to be doctors for taking the American Board of Internal Medicine, or ABIM, exam. After earning the ABIM certification, a fellowship in nephrology awaits. This includes roughly 2-years of clinical or lab experience. When those two-years are up, doctors apply to get a state license and begin their practice.