About the Job

The GI Nurse: A Modern Day Hero For The Digestive Tract

The GI Nurse: A Modern Day Hero For The Digestive Tract

No, a GI nurse does not refer to a nurse practitioner enrolled in military service. The abbreviation actually stands for the gastrointestinal system, which everyone should be familiar with. The GI tract is the organ system that is involved in food intake, digestion, excretion, and energy absorption. The processes of this system are so common that most people usually take their gastrointestinal health for granted.

Any nurse will surely have undergone lectures about the digestive tract inside a school setting, but choosing to specialize in the field is a different ball game altogether. The role requires ample knowledge of biology, endoscopy, microbiology, and other fields of scientific inquiry. While the technical know-how is an undeniably significant part of the job, the hands-on training is equally important.

No one knows this better than Barbara Vodopest, RN. She is one of the nurses in the Gastrointestinal Lab at North Kansas City Hospital, which is one of the highest-rated GI institutions in the region.

The last week of March coincided with the GI Nurses and Associates Week. As a tribute to the brave men and women of the profession, Barbara was interviewed to talk about her experience as a GI nurse practitioner. There is no better time than the present to learn about this specialized field.

GI Nurse: an overview

The role of a GI nurse, sometimes called an endoscopy nurse, has truly changed with the passage of time. The responsibilities of this medical profession have grown and transformed as technology continued to advance. Initially, the GI nurse would simply be a general nurse practitioner who would, every now and then, be pulled away from her regular duties to support doctors during endoscopic procedures. Back then, it would normally be anyone who was available to lend a hand at the moment.

These days, assistance is only one aspect of the job.

Barbara has explained that the bulk of her work is still about preparing patients for GI procedures. This includes IV administration, sedation, and vital assessment of the patient. Her responsibilities also extend to another form of preparation. She has to educate both the patient and the family members so that they will know what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. The overall process would not be complete without accomplishing paperwork duties, such as filling out forms and taking the patient’s consent.

Colonoscopies and esophagogastroduodenoscopies (EGDs) constitute the majority of the procedures that the lab handles. Aside from these two procedures, the NKCH GI Lab also supports subspecialty procedures, such as esophageal manometries, catheter insertions, fecal microbiota transplantations, and feeding tube placements. They also highly recommended middle-aged individuals to undergo regular colorectal screening and general check-ups to prevent gastroenterological complications.

Aside from the practical applications the job entails, Barbara emphasizes the importance of their role as educators. This step does not only happen inside the walls of the laboratory. Every second Wednesday of the month, a team from the GI Lab heads to the Wellness Corner at the local YMCA. The members answer GI-related inquiries from the community members. Aside from this regular gathering, the professionals also go to local health fairs to provide the general public information about common GI problems, like ulcers, hemorrhoids, and reflux. This is a significant undertaking, especially since everyone needs to learn how to take care of their gastrointestinal system.

A calling

When asked why she chose to specialize in this field, Barbara mentions that she was initially looking for a change of pace. She spent 30 years in critical care wherein she was a cardiac care nurse. Once she decided that it was time to move on, she decided to look for a place in the medical field where she can put her skills and experience to good use.

She says that what drew her to GI is the fact that every single day is different. The scope of the field has allowed her a new approach to the work she does. The cases are never the same and the job offers her the opportunity to learn new things all the time. However, she still gets to work with ER cases, OR cases, and ICU cases, aside from the regular inpatients and outpatients. Barbara believes that her training as a critical care nurse helps her when it comes to this field of nursing.

As mentioned, the field is always changing and evolving. She says that witnessing the FMT developments has been an amazing experience for her. Most people would fail to give the nurses proper credit for their involvement in the procedure, but Barbara reveals that they actually oversee the preparations and help the doctors with the overall procedure.

Occupational hazards and rewards

According to Barbara, the technical aspects are not the most challenging part of the job. The distinction goes to comforting family members during difficult moments. It is a necessary part of the job, but there is no denying that it can be emotionally draining.

On the other hand, it is rewarding to be able to deliver good news to her patients. She shares her patient’s pleasure whenever she is assigned to report the “all clear” signal after check-ups. This is especially true if she knows that the patient has a history of colon polyps, cancer, and other conditions. Barbara says that it is incredibly fulfilling to see the patient’s happiness after being witness to the pain that they had suffered.

She has also mentioned her gratefulness for the team of nurses that she works with. She talks about how many of the people on the team come from similar backgrounds. Their bond is also strengthened by their similar workflows. The presence of her colleagues is one of the reasons that she enjoys coming to work on a daily basis.

To future GI nurses

The nursing profession is projected to grow up to 19% by 2022, which is already quite high as compared to the growth rate of other positions. However, GI nurses can expect to see a 26% rate of growth within the same timeframe.

For nurses considering a career in this field of nursing, Barbara advises that they go into the medical-surgery field first. She says that a year there will provide these young professionals a solid foundation on which to build the rest of their career. It will also help develop their time management skills, which they will be able to use in other aspects of their life.

She also recommends staying in critical care for some time, too. The more general area of interest will help young nurses get a feel for the job. Once they feel like they are ready to specialize, it is only then that Barbara recommends moving into GI. This is the same advice that Barbara has given her daughter, who is also a nurse.

She remarks that the most vital role of the job is setting expectations for the patients before they undergo any procedure. This also applies to the friends and family members of the patient. Before the day itself, it is the GI nurse’s duty to prepare the patient in every sense of the word.

This does not only refer to the procedural aspects of the job, of course. It, in fact, extends to the emotional preparation. It is also the duty of a GI nurse to decrease the patient’s anxiety and tension, which Barbara says can be a significant factor when it comes to the outcome of the operation.