An Expert’s Advocacy Guide – GI Nurses & Associates Week (2021)

GI Nurses & Associates Week (March 21-27, 2021) marks an occasion to celebrate the work and impact of GI nurses and the broader GI care team. Safe and effective gastroenterological care requires far more than a GI physician—and increasingly, GI nurses and GI nurse practitioners (NPs) are stepping in to ensure the GI health of the nation.

GI nurses and GI NPs work with patients who have illnesses and disorders related to the digestive system or the gastrointestinal tract. They can work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient or inpatient endoscopy suites, or physician offices. GI nurses and GI NPs can assist in endoscopies or colonoscopies; they also act as patient advocates and patient educators. Registered nurses (RN) often obtain professional certification in order to demonstrate mastery of the GI specialty, and NPs may go even further by attending GI-specific fellowship programs.

GI nurses hold patient-facing roles that involve pre- and post-operative care, as well as administrative and counseling duties. As part of a broader team, they make GI healthcare more efficient, more cost-effective, and more compassionate. They also act as patient advocates, educating the community about important issues related to GI health.

To get a closer look at the most important issues in GI nursing, read on.

Patient Advocacy for GI Nurses & Associates: What to Know

Colorectal Cancer Screening and Awareness

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US and the second leading cause of cancer death. Starting as a growth called a polyp, colorectal cancer can be caught early through screening colonoscopies. Early diagnosis correlates with a greater chance of survival: when diagnosed in the early stages, the survival rate for colorectal cancer is close to 90 percent.

The Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) encourages its members to spread awareness around the benefits of early screenings for colorectal cancer. Over the last ten years, screening rates have gone up by 20.7 percent.

To increase those rates even further, SGNA and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) support legislation at the federal level which would remove barriers to colorectal screenings, and promote effective, affordable treatment options.

Infection Prevention

An estimated seven percent of all patients admitted to the hospital develop a hospital-acquired infection. Several thousand patients die each year as a result.

This is a preventable issue, and SGNA has instituted a nationwide Infection Prevention Champions Program that provides evidence-based procedural resources to ensure safety from infections throughout the gastroenterology and endoscopy experience. By adhering to evidence-based guidelines, GI nurses and associates can help eliminate infections via gastrointestinal endoscopes.

Opiate-Induced Constipation (OIC)

Opiate-Induced Constipation (OIC) is the most bothersome side-effect of opioid therapy for many patients: it affects 45 to 90 percent of patients with chronic non-cancer pain who take opioids, and 60 to 90 percent of those with cancer-related pain. But those who suffer from OIC may not speak of it: more than 30 percent of patients with OIC do not initiate a discussion about it with their providers.

It’s more than just uncomfortable. OIC can cause significant social and psychological distress in patients who already experience a high symptom burden, and OIC may cause them to skip, decrease, or stop their provider-prescribed opioids.

Even if patients feel shy about bringing up the topic of OIC, GI nurses and associates shouldn’t. Sometimes, advising a patient to drink more water, eat more fiber, or alter their sitting position is enough to avoid serious discomfort. In other instances, additional medications may be required.

Certification for GI Nurses and GI Nurse Practitioners

GI nurses and GI NPs do not necessarily need additional certifications, beyond those of a normal RN or NP, in order to practice their specialty. But certification is still recommended: certified GI nurses and GI NPs have proven their skill and commitment to the specialty.

The American Board of Certified Gastroenterology Nurses (ABCGN) offers the Certified Gastroenterology Registered Nurse (CGRN) designation—the only certification program for GI nurses and GI NPs that is accredited by the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS).

ABCGN certification is open to RNs currently engaged in GI and/or endoscopy. Eligible candidates must have 4,000 hours of GI/endoscopy experience in the last five years; they must also be able to provide contact information for two responsible practitioners in the specialty area who can verify the candidate’s work experience and professional qualifications.

Once deemed eligible, candidates will need to pass the CGRN exam. The CGRN credential is valid for five years and may be renewed through either retesting or completing a prerequisite number of contact hours.

GI-Specific Training Programs for Nurse Practitioners

Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences

The 12-month postgraduate nurse practitioner gastroenterology and hepatology fellowship program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is designed to provide specialized training and education for highly qualified NPs. Founded on the principle that clinical practice drives research and education, its curriculum brings together didactic learning, research, and mentored outpatient and inpatient rotations related to a collaborative gastroenterology and hepatology practice.

Fellows are expected to commit at least 40 hours a week to the learning schedule; a competitive stipend will be disbursed in biweekly installments. The Mayo Clinic has been ranked as the best gastroenterology and hepatology hospital in the nation every year since 1990.

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Johns Hopkins Medicine offers an intensive 12-month nurse practitioner fellowship program in Baltimore, Maryland, for NPs planning a career in gastroenterology and hepatology. The program is integrated with the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology’s fellowship program for physicians, and first-year fellows in both programs receive comparable training experiences.

Rotations may include inpatient gastroenterology service; inpatient liver service; outpatient gastroenterology and hepatology clinics; and endoscopy procedural exposure. Fellows will also gain experience in specialty areas such as transplant hepatology; gastrointestinal oncology; inflammatory bowel disease; and nutrition. Fellows receive a $50,000 stipend, disbursed over 12 months, and 20 days vacation time.

Resources for GI Nurses & Associates Week

Safe and effective gastroenterological care requires a team-based approach. To connect with GI nurses, GI associates, and the organizations which bring them together, check out some of the resources below.

  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP): With over 117,000 members, AANP is the largest organization for nurse practitioners. Their Gastroenterology Special Practice Group (SPG) offers GI NPs the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues who share an interest or clinical expertise in gastroenterology.
  • American Gastroenterological Association (AGA): Founded in 1897, AGA is a trusted voice in the GI community, with over 16,000 members across the globe. They offer a resource center for NPs in the field of gastroenterology.
  • American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE): Primarily a physician-centered organization, ASGE is a leader in advancing patient care and digestive health through its advocacy and education efforts.
  • Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA): A professional organization of nurses and associates dedicated to the safe and effective practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy nursing, SGNA promotes education, research, advocacy, collaboration, and professional development amongst its members and the community at large.
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California, and he believes a strong society demands a stronger healthcare system. Since early 2018, he’s written extensively about emerging topics in healthcare administration, healthcare research, and healthcare education. Drawing upon interviews with hospital CEOs, nurse practitioners, nursing professors, and advocacy groups, his writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best.