The annual celebration of GI Nurses and Associates Week (this year from March 19-25) marks a special milestone this year. The 2023 GI Nurses & Associates Week is the 10th anniversary of honoring nurses in this specialty and all the work they do.
Gastroenterology (GI) nurses specialize in the gastrointestinal tract. Patients who have disorders or symptoms related to the digestive tract will seek out GI specialist teams to help them navigate what can be elusive and sometimes debilitating symptoms.
Nurses interested in this specialty will help patients in many ways. They can assist with upper and lower GI diagnostic procedures and surgeries including endoscopy and colonoscopy, stomach emptying studies, cancer surgery, and more. GI nurses frequently work with patients who have liver and pancreas problems and also with patients who have hernias.
Gastroenterology nurses are an important resource for patients who are managing GI symptoms. As a GI nurse, you’ll be well informed of how varied factors impact a person’s digestive tract.
Food and Diet
You’ll want to help patients with diet to see what might trigger or ease symptoms, what needs to be avoided, and what they might need to add to their diet to help alleviate symptoms. As a GI nurse, you’ll want to be aware of potential food sensitivities or allergies that could be causing problems as well as conditions like celiac disease in which patients can’t tolerate any gluten at all.
Exercise and Motion
Exercise helps GI symptoms in many ways by reducing inflammation, keeping the digestive tract moving, and reducing stress. Nurses in the specialty will have an idea of what to recommend to patients who might need to increase their exercise or moderate an intense exercise routine. Some GI conditions have such severe symptoms that a regular exercise routine might be impossible, so nurses will want to understand how that problem can be balanced in a way that will work for each individual.
Sleep and Rest
Regular, high-quality sleep is good for everyone, but gastroenterology patients are particularly prone to symptom flare ups when they are short on sleep. Nurses are great motivators to help people focus on getting the proper rest to see if it helps any of their symptoms. And GI nurses offer something else that’s just as important for patients to hear–permission to slow down and get rest to help themselves heal. That message alone can be a powerful motivator for some.
Stress and Mental Health
Stress wreaks havoc on a GI system in the best circumstances, but when there’s any kind of disruption or illness, stress or mental health issues can have lasting gastroenterology effects. Having a digestive tract condition is hard enough to manage and that alone can cause stress to raise its head for many patients. Nurses are aware of this and are an important resource to help patients lower their stress levels through various methods like yoga, meditation, or through professional help that might include therapy or medication.
Education and Knowledge
Patients need to be educated and informed about their condition or about procedures that are necessary. GI nurses can listen to a patient’s fears, about nagging symptoms, and about the problems dealing with GI symptoms that can crop up at any time. With more information at their disposal, patients can work out a careful and educated approach to living life with a GI condition.
Gastroenterology nurses work with patients on so many levels and the complexity of the work is both emotional and professional. If you are a GI nurse, take this week to celebrate all you do for your patients!
As GI Nurses and Associates Week wraps up, gastroenterology nurses nationwide have been able to enjoy a week of celebration and reflection on this nursing specialty.
The Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) sponsors this week as a way to champion GI nurses and associates everywhere. After a particularly challenging couple of years in the nursing industry, GI nurses are celebrating their pride in their career choice and the hard work of all their peers.
Minority Nurse caught up with Jay Lardizabal MAN, BSN, RN, CGRN to talk a little about his career as a GI nurse and what it means to him. As a member of SGNA and the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Lardizabal has spent time volunteering his skills with both organizations.
Lardizabal came to nursing in a roundabout way, and his path to becoming a GI nurse emerged because he paid attention to his intuition and his interests. “Coming from a Filipino family, I became a nurse because my mom somewhat pushed me to it,” he says. “Now that I am a nurse, I am happy that she did. I am truly grateful for that–a good reminder that mothers always know best!”
As Lardizabal spent time in the industry, he realized that the GI specialty was something that appealed to his interests and his skills. “I came to GI as a registry RN in 2009,” he says. “Back then, I had no clue as to what GI nurses were doing but I always knew I was happier in the GI department, so I stayed. It’s been 13 years now, and I am still chugging.”
Crediting a continual professional development pursuit, Lardizabal says that while GI nurses have to master the intricacies of the GI tract and all the related systems, being open to lifelong learning expands all the opportunities GI nurses have.
“My professional growth could be attributed to my department and my colleagues,” he says. “I am fortunate to have been one of the nurses sent by my department to attend national conferences like SGNA. That is pivotal in my understanding of what GI nursing all is about.”
Staying current with all the developments in GI treatments is essential, says Lardizabal, and professional development opportunities, whether from conferences, seminars, or courses, helps keep GI nurses current. “The most challenging part of GI is catching up with the speed of how GI technology is evolving,” he says. “It is not a bad thing; it actually benefits the patients.”
Nurses who work in GI are also excellent ambassadors to help spread awareness of their specialty and how much they help patients. “A lot of people do not realize that GI is not only about EGD and colonoscopies,” he says. Explaining what the specialty involves helps remind Lardizabal of why the specialty is so exciting. “When I show students around my department, I can’t help but be amused by how their eyes grow big when they hear about what we do in our lab,” he says. “EGD and colonoscopies are just the tip of the iceberg!”
But it’s the patient interactions and relationships that matter most to GI nurses, especially Lardizabal. “It is an honor to experience being trusted by patients,” he says, “and be handed control on those moments when they feel vulnerable.”
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.
by the Society of
Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, this year’s theme is
about nurses sharing their own stories about working as a GI nurse.
This side of the awareness month will give GI nurses a chance to
connect with others through sharing how professional membership,
knowledge, collaboration, education, and inspiration made their
careers in GI nursing a good match for them.
GI nurses treat patients with a variety of conditions from Chron’s
disease to abdominal injury to diverticulitis, they are also on the
front lines of a disease that is the second-leading cause of cancer
deaths in the United States, according to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the midst of
celebrating the nurses who give high-quality and dedicated care to
their GI patients, the week closes out a month that calls attention
to colorectal cancer awareness.
nurses are always on high alert for the prevention and treatment of
colorectal cancer. They are also often the professionals who help
patients learn to cope with or manage a diagnosis of cancer. They
advise them of treatment plans, potential surgical outcomes, and the
emotional turmoil that can come from hearing you have cancer.
is also a great opportunity to remember that lots of people don’t
think of their own risk for colorectal cancer, even nurses. While
educating your patients on some of the prevention advice and the
screenings available, make sure to take the time to take your own
of the latest pointers from the CDC are helpful to discuss with your
own patients, your family members, and to remind yourself how
important it is to make time for your own health.
best current tool for colorectal cancer detection is the
often-dreaded colonoscopy screening. While it’s a process to go
thorough, it’s also the gold standard for catching colorectal cancer
in its earliest and most treatable stages. Screenings should begin at
50, and earlier if you have other risk factors like family history or
a personal history of things like inflammatory bowel disease.
a nurse, you can help patients by letting them know what will happen
during the actual procedure. Even more valuable is giving tips that
will make the preparation easier. If it’s appropriate to their
situation, many people can begin eliminating high-fiber foods and
increasing their liquids a few days before the preparation begins.
This will make emptying everything out the GI system easier.
can help find precancerous polyps that can be removed before they
become cancer. A little inconvenience from a screening can actually
be life saving.
with any cancer, you can’t always prevent the disease. Colorectal
cancer often strikes people who have no family history, no personal
risk factors, and whose lifestyle and habits would make them seem at
low risk. However, there are always things people can do to put the
odds in their favor.
as mentioned, is essential. Otherwise, healthy
lifestyle choices can make a big difference. The general advice
about staying active, eating a healthy diet, and not drinking alcohol
or smoking is repeated so frequently because it’s so helpful.
for Troubling Symptoms
cancer often causes no symptoms in the early stages. The CDC and the
Cancer Society offer a few red flags to watch for.
from the rectum or blood in the stool (sometimes people dismiss this
pain in the stomach, cramps, achiness that doesn’t go away
changes in your bowel habits that persist after a few days
weakness and fatigue
is also hope. Colorectal cancer is terrifying, but it is often
treatable, especially when it’s caught early. The more people talk
about it and learn the importance of screening, the more cases can be
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