The COVID-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on GI nursing and SGNA has resources to help nurses. While many initially thought COVID-19 was an acute respiratory virus, the year has revealed many patients presenting with severe gastrointestinal symptoms, some of which persist long after the initial recovery. GI nurses are also managing the safety concerns for themselves and their patients. And many GI procedures were delayed due to the pandemic’s impact.
Within this nursing specialty, gastrointestinal nurses can find many subsets of the field that interest them. There are opportunities for nurses to work with pediatric patients and the elderly. They can focus on cancer treatment and care or on endoscopy and surgical practices and procedures. And they are able to work with patients in inpatient and outpatient settings for conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis or GERD and other digestive disorders.
As a GI nurse, you may even opt to pursue an academic or research role to help find new treatments and discoveries to help GI patients. These options allow nurses to work in an area that really interests them and where they feel they can make a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life.
This week occurs during a month devoted to Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that directly impacts the work GI nurses do. As colorectal cancer cases in young adults increase, GI nurses are excellent advocates for their patients to learn how to manage the diagnosis and treatment while living with the emotional and physical impacts of this disease.
Gastroenterology nurses can use many available resources during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to begin conversations with their patients. They can talk about warning signs and symptoms, family history and other risk factors, the critical timing of screening, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle for everyone, but particularly those at a higher risk for colon cancer.
You’ll be an essential member of many teams that will depend on your clinical expertise in gastroenterology and your knowledge of the patient. As with any nursing specialty, gaining certification in your area of specialty will allow you to increase your knowledge and then put that into practice to offer the best patient care.
As a certified GI nurse, your leadership will be an asset to your organization as well and may inspire other nurses to follow the same path. Your certification brings you expertise that will help you work for policy change that can make life easier for GI patients, help bring improved safety for GI nurses, or raise awareness of GI disorders.
GI nurses also hold a special empathy for those in their care as they hear stories of pain and discomfort and the indignities GI patients sometimes deal with. As a caring provider, you know your nursing practice will help you develop close bonds with your GI patients. Those bonds provide the kind of meaningful connections that give GI nurses a great deal of job satisfaction.
Certified Nurses Day falls on the birthday of Margretta Madden Styles, RN, EdD, FAAN, a nurse leader and educator who is considered the driving force in nursing certification. Styles was a pioneer in drawing attention to the importance of nurse certification and what is means for high-quality nursing practices and improved patient outcomes. A 1954 Yale graduate, Styles, who was known as Gretta, eventually served as the dean of the School of Nursing for the University of California San Francisco, and gained international acclaim for her advocacy for certification to advance the nursing practice. Styles died in 2005, but her legacy continues to inspire the certified nurses in the United States to this day.
Nursing certifications improve nurses’ skill sets, expand their employment prospects, raise their salary potential, and also elevate the nursing industry as a whole. Individually, nurses who are certified are recognized for the additional time and effort they spend to gain more knowledge in their specialty. And nurses are able to obtain many certifications—they are not limited to just one. Certification helps bring you the understanding you’ll need around practices and processes in whatever area you choose. For instance you may decide to obtain certification in adult gerontology, oncology, nurse leadership, gastroenterology, med-surg, wound care, or diabetes care. The dozens upon dozens of choices available will likely meet whatever interest or specialty you’d want.
To become certified, you’ll need to be a licensed RN. Depending on the certification you are going for, other prerequisites vary by program and by state. In some instances you’ll need to have an advanced degree or a certain number of practice hours in that specialty. Each certification will cost a fee to take, and some employers will cover this fee, or part of it, if you ask. And because certification is based on the idea that having up-to-date knowledge is crucial to excellence in nursing, you’ll need to renew your certification periodically (and that also varies with the specific certification).
Lots of nurses worry that certification is a long process or that they could suffer professional backlash if they don’t pass the exam. As a nurse, you can choose to seek certification without your employer knowing your plan, so you won’t have to worry about telling your supervisor the results. On the other hand, oftentimes the encouragement you’ll receive from your colleagues can inspire you to continue on this path and get through the hard times. And lastly, when you are taking a certification exam, you’re being tests in areas that are already familiar to you.
As a nurse, certification boosts the knowledge you already have and sharpens your skills so you’ll improve your own nursing practice on a daily basis. In the larger picture, as a professional, you’ll gain specific expertise in your area of practice and thus you’ll be looked to as a leader in that area. As you gain a higher professional standing, more opportunities for additional responsibilities and leadership positions may open up for you as well.
On this year’s Certified Nurses Day, celebrate the efforts of nurses who have become certified and have improved their work and their patient outcomes each day. If you’re thinking of becoming certified but are delaying starting the process, the best time to begin is now.
March 14 kicks off Patient Safety Awareness Week, an annual recognition of the essential need to improve safety in all settings.
For nurses, awareness about patient safety impacts every aspect of their work. From medication prescriptions and delivery, to diagnoses and follow up, to ambulatory safety and safety of those who are bedridden, to the treatment of conditions and issues that affect virtually every area of the body, nurses place safety at the very top of the list of what they do.
No matter how careful healthcare workers are and how much they prioritize patient safety, there’s always room for improvement. And the numbers are alarming when it comes to the widespread impact errors have. According to the World Health Organization, as many as 4 in 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient healthcare situations across the globe. Of the harm done, more than three-quarters of the cases are preventable and the most harmful errors fall under medication use, prescriptions, and medical diagnosis. Even treatment in some of the highest income nations with excellent healthcare isn’t entirely protective. One in 10 patients suffers harm in a hospital setting in these countries and almost half of those errors are preventable.
Organizations including the Center for Patient Safety and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) advocate for attention to common ways where patients are harmed during healthcare treatment. Resources such as the Patient Safety Essentials Toolkit from the IHI can help nurses and nursing teams assess their typical workflow and make changes that can have a big impact on outcomes. From the SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation) technique to better communication, even small adjustments in the way a unit operates can improve patient outcomes and safety for both patients and staff.
The opportunity for improvement is extensive. According to the WHO, patient harm occurs on many levels and in varied settings. From medication error to infection prevention practices to radiation errors or unsafe injection practices, the potential for mistakes occurs across the spectrum of care. It can also include harm such as falls and other unintentional injury.
As a nurse, educating yourself about the latest evidence-based safety practices is always good professional development, as is learning new skills. Take courses, read journals, and investigate what other healthcare settings are doing successfully. Promote safety practices on your unit and advocate for opportunities to learn more about protecting your patients at work, whether that’s through speakers, seminars, or with hands-on education and projects.
What is one thing you can do to elevate your own practice this week?
Professional development is one of the most important items in your nurses’ toolkit. Learning new skills, finding out about new technology and how to use it, and discovering new evidence-based practices will make you a better nurse.
But after a year that has wreaked havoc across the world, do you really need to think about professional development during a pandemic?
Simply put, yes. But depending on your role and your current workload, you can adapt to take realistic steps.
Professional development keeps you at the top of your game. As lifelong learners, nurses are committed to continually improving their skills because their patients depend on it. There’s no way to be the best nurse possible if your thinking remains the same as it did when you first started a nursing practice. But if you’re overwhelmed and your workload just isn’t letting up, your professional development goals might look different from another nurse.
What does professional development look like now?
1. Assess the Past Year
If you’re too tapped to even consider adding professional development to your life, think ahead. The past year has been one long lesson in trial by fire and you have learned a lot, even if you don’t have a certificate for it. Think about what you did that might have sparked a curiosity to learn more. What areas do you think you did well in? What areas could use some additional skills? Did you assume roles or responsibilities you liked or some that didn’t fit so well? All of these indicators can help you think about professional development in the future.
2. Make a List
Your last year probably found you using skills you never thought you’d use on a regular basis. Maybe you assumed a leadership role because you had to or you found the leadership role you were already in morphing into something much different. Leading a unit through a pandemic is nothing like what you did before. What can you do in the next year to build on the skills you sharpened through the pandemic?
3. Take Action
Sometimes getting started is the hardest step. At some point, life will return to some semblance of normal, and you’ll want your career to be in good shape to move forward when that happens. Taking action can be a large or small undertaking, but doing something is the goal. When you think about your actionable goal, be realistic for the current time. If you are able to apply for a degree program or to take a certification, now is the time to get that plan in action. If you can’t commit to something big, remember that small actions are important.
Join a professional organization and attend one event.
Network with a nurse you admire.
Read a book or subscribe to a journal in your specialty to sharpen your expertise.
Take an online course in an area that can build up essential skills including communication, conflict resolution, targeted technology, time management, or goal setting.
Share your knowledge by teaching a class in your organization or in your community. You’ll benefit from the public speaking practice and organization skill building, and your audience will benefit from your advanced understanding of the subject matter.
Professional development is an ongoing task, and when the world of nursing is in such change, it’s even more important. But many nurses are tired and stressed, so professional development is going to look a little different than it might have a year ago. Just keep moving forward and learning, but do it with an intention that will bring your career to a better place.
Whether you’re a brand-new nursing student or a nursing graduate student earning an advanced degree, working with faculty members will help you get as much as possible out of your higher ed years. Sometimes connecting with and learning from faculty members is easier said than done, but forming bonds with your professors can help you in many ways.
If you’re wondering how to best approach faculty members you admire, who are in your specialty, or who teach an especially difficult course, there are a few things to remember.
Take the Initiative
Don’t be afraid to talk to them. As a nursing student, you know your professors are busy and some of them can even be intimidating. But they decided on a career that includes teaching because they want to help others succeed in nursing. Approach them when they are available—good times during scheduled office hours. Ask if they have time to chat or if setting aside more time would fit their schedule. Bring your questions about the work in class or even ideas for relevant and independent projects outside the course requirements.
Know What They Can and Can’t Do
If you’re excited to find a faculty member whose research or career trajectory mirrors your own interests, know they will probably be an excellent resource for you. They might be able to help guide you on important projects, your research direction, or the soft skills (like how to make a great presentation or communicate effectively with your team) that career nurses need to excel. They might be able to introduce you to other nursing professionals across the globe who you can learn from as well. Don’t expect them to find a job for you, but they might be able to steer you in a direction where you’ll find opportunities like grant information or job openings.
Meet Their Standards
Professors want to work with driven and dedicated students. They don’t expect you to perform miracles, but your efforts will have more impact if you ask questions when you don’t understand something, show up on time, and follow up on outstanding tasks. If you’re working on a team, pull your weight and contribute to make the group’s work better. If you’re working independently, produce work that shows initiative and a real interest in the subject and turn it in on time. Professors expect high-quality work from nursing students, so check everything twice.
Faculty members are in their roles so they can teach students, and they like to hear when a student appreciates their efforts. If a professor gives you an opportunity to present at a conference, participate in a paper, or follow a specific interest in a lab that’s not exactly part of the syllabus, be sure to thank them. A note or email is appreciated or you can just tell them how their encouragement made a difference and tell them “thank you for helping me.”
Keep in Touch
One of the special talents of many professors is their ability to remember students long after they have graduated. Often, you’ll find a moment in your career that reflects directly on a course you took and a professor who influenced you. Keeping in touch with professors who were particularly encouraging or knowledgeable is a great way to stay connected to people who changed your life and to build your network. You may even be able to offer something in return over the course of your own career.
Faculty members want to help their students. With some guidelines in place, approaching them can make all the difference in your academic work and even your career.