1. Baker, Kathy A. PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

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Our organization, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA), provides amazing opportunities for nurses to grow professionally. I often share with others how my service in our organization has afforded me remarkable experiences and phenomenal coaching in professional and organizational leadership. I've met countless colleagues through my service as Gastroenterology Nursing Editor, past president of the certification board, annual and regional course speaker, and now as codirector of the SGNA Evidence-Based Practice Fellowship and Scholar Program. But I never saw myself doing any of these things. It all started with taking the initiative to fill out the SGNA "willing to serve" survey and saying "yes" when then-President-Elect Dorothy Sherman invited me to serve as a member of the Certifying Board of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (CBGNA, now the American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses [ABCGN]). I had no idea that my simple response would lead to priceless career experiences and opportunities.

Kathy A. Baker, PhD,... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy A. Baker, PhD, RN, ACNS-BC, FAAN

When I became a member of SGNA, I had just started as the manager of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Department at Parkland in Dallas. I knew nothing about the world of endoscopy beyond the fact that I loved assisting the gastroenterologists with bedside endoscopy in the medical intensive care unit (ICU) at the hospital where I had previously worked. I quickly fell in love with the incredible Parkland GI staff, camaraderie of the GI team, fascinating procedures and technology we used in delivering care, variety of patients we serviced (ambulatory to critically ill), incredible educational offerings for our staff and physicians, and the support I found through the SGNA as a new member of the specialty.


When I took the manager position, I had just finished completing the requirements for my master's degree in nursing. I had always wanted to write for publication, so I began working on my first manuscript. I loved that our specialty had its own journal and I knew I was working in a special environment at Parkland where we were doing unique, cutting-edge procedures. Finally, I felt I had something unique and new to contribute to the literature. I had always had writing for publication as a goal and my new-found specialty seemed to be the perfect opportunity to spread my wings.


After publishing my first manuscript in Gastroenterology Nursing, I was elated! I was recruited to serve as a leader in my regional society. I also began to encourage my staff to look for opportunities to share their knowledge and expertise. They were much more seasoned than I was and I wanted them to begin to take advantage of the benefits SGNA had to offer. They developed educational posters (still hanging in the department today), presented at the SGNA annual course, obtained certification, and become leaders in our regional society. As a result, our camaraderie and support was fortified even more and our physician peers held us in high esteem.


At this point in time, President-Elect Sherman called, I said yes to an opportunity to serve at the national level and the rest is history-and life-changing for me. Remember, I never aspired to do any of these things. I just took small steps to offer myself in service and doors began to open that I never expected.


Since my early years in SGNA, our organization has grown in numbers, professionalism, and respect. There are unlimited opportunities to serve and grow. Start with your regional society. While recycling leaders who serve over and over again provides for some continuity and efficiency at the local level, it burns out valuable colleagues and does not allow for new perspectives or talents to benefit the local organization. It also prevents local leaders from feeling they have the time to serve at the national level, robbing deserving peers opportunities to grow even further in their careers.


At the national level, consider volunteering to serve on a SGNA committee. You'll develop new colleagues from across the country, benefit from learning more about the organization, make tangible contributions to our specialty through your committee, and grow both personally and professionally. Your organization will also benefit by being able to demonstrate their nurses are valued and respected in their specialty, a requirement for coveted Magnet or Nurse-Friendly hospital designations.


Another great opportunity that also reflects positively on your organization is selection as a SGNA fellow or scholar. These two programs were introduced to engage nurses in gastroenterology-specific evidence-based practices. The fellows, with support of their institution, select a GI-specific problem that can be addressed through existing evidence. After a week-long course sponsored by SGNA, the fellows translate the existing evidence about their problem into practice. Hopefully you were able to attend some of the fellows' presentations at our annual course meeting this past May. Not only are the fellows changing practice in their facilities, they are now serving as organization leaders both in their home institutions as well as for SGNA!


The SGNA scholars are nurses with master's or doctoral degrees who have a solid understanding of how to critique evidence. Like the fellows, they also participate in a week-long training sponsored by SGNA to learn how to conduct systematic reviews of existing evidence on GI-related topics. They also will present their projects at the annual course and publish findings in Gastroenterology Nursing and other relevant peer-reviewed journals. Both the fellows and scholars are expected to make career-long contributions to SGNA through the skills they have learned formally and experientially to impact GI-nursing practice with quality evidence.


In addition to serving as a regional leader, national committee member, or SGNA fellow or scholar, you might also consider submitting an abstract for presentation at the annual course, writing a manuscript to submit for publication in the newsletter or journal, or serving as a manuscript reviewer for Gastroenterology Nursing. No opportunity is more desirable than another and all provide experiences that will enrich and contribute to your personal and professional life. Just follow your instincts and begin your service in a role that really interests you within SGNA.


If I had not completed that "willing-to-serve" survey many years ago, I can't imagine the opportunities and people I would have missed in my career. I never expected to be so involved, given so many opportunities to lead and grow, or able to meet so many phenomenal people through SGNA. I was fortunate because I said "yes." Do not question your ability to contribute or serve. Our SGNA leaders are masters at putting people in the right place at the right time. Be willing to put yourself forward as a member who wants to serve. Opportunities abound, so make yourself available!