National GI Nurses & Associates Week takes place this year (March 22-28) in the middle of a world in upheaval. The COVID-19 pandemic that has taken hold around the world has a direct and significant impact on healthcare workers around the globe.

While the industry continues to grapple with the demands placed on its workers, GI nurses continue to do their work to help those with disorders involving the entire gastrointestinal tract.

Sponsored by the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses & Associates, this week focuses on the nursing practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy and the conditions of the GI tract. Nurses in this specialty are involved in all aspects of care of GI patients. They will treat patients who have various conditions including reflux, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or cancer. Because of the broad range of conditions, GI nurses are specialists in body systems that are also related to the GI tract and how each impacts the other.

Gastroenterology nurses will meet with patients, will assist with procedures and follow up care, and offer ongoing patient support. Nurses in this role are also a primary source of education about these conditions and how they impact overall health.

Because GI conditions have significant impact on other areas of health, GI nurses work as part of a team that helps patients with life-changing adjustments. They might work with nutritionists to help patients with celiac disease learn how to adapt to the often overwhelming challenge of eliminating any wheat ingredients from their diets and other nutrition education. GI nurses will also work to help control any chronic pain that presents with gastrointestinal disorders or diseases. Patients also frequently turn to their GI nurses to help them navigate the social aspects of having a condition that can be highly disruptive to daily life, so nurses will bring in other team members while they also use their own vast knowledge of coping skills.

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Nurses in the gastroenterology field frequently assist with procedures that include endoscopy to determine allergy, irritation, or disease or colonoscopies to diagnose disease or as a screening tool for colon cancer. They will be with patients through these procedures and will educate them on what to expect and normal recovery. Because GI nurses work with patients who are of all ages and also with patients who may have other complex conditions, they have to remain alert for any unexpected complications.

GI nurses rely on their critical thinking skills as well as a deep sense of empathy for their patients. GI conditions involve symptoms that sometimes bring embarrassment for patients, and GI nurses are excellent at normalizing what the body is doing.

If this career path interests you, experience in a broad specialty like med/surge nursing will be an asset for moving forward. You’ll want to gain experience with GI patients, so that is the next step. To advance your career and to ensure you are providing your patients with the best possible care, becoming certified is next. Taking the GI certification exam shows you set high standards for yourself and are willing to take on the extra work to become the best nurse you can. The additional knowledge gained with the certification process will boost your skills.

Celebrate GI nurses this week, and stay safe out there on the front lines.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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