1. Wright, Kathy B. PhD (c), RN, CGRN, CS

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What do you think? Is our specialty special? Dan Spellerberg (2001) raised the question in a recent Nursing Spectrum commentary. I certainly have a strong opinion! Prior to settling in the gastrointestinal (GI) lab in 1987, I had considered myself a generalist. I was easily bored with nursing specialties that focused on the same things (at least in my mind) over and over. For instance, a close friend was mesmerized by cardiovascular nursing, but I wasn't the least bit interested. From my perspective, if you've seen one heart block, you've seen them all! And the specialty was so detail-oriented. Not for me! Another friend loved dialysis nursing... same old thing day after day in my mind. An introduction to GI nursing during a bedside endoscopy finally began to change my bias towards specialty nursing practice.


Prior to becoming a GI nurse, I had spent time in critical care, women's health, medical surgical nursing, and even administration. I enjoyed aspects of each, but nothing seemed a good fit for me. Something was missing. I had no passion for those specialties. New things soon became old. Time I spent assisting the gastroenterologists with bedside endoscopy in the ICU, however, was fascinating to me. These GI physicians remarked that many of my colleagues in critical care disliked assisting with the messy bedside endoscopic procedures (we were often scoping patients with a GI bleed), but I loved seeing the endoscopic view and having a better sense of the status of my patient. When a position was posted for a GI lab nurse manager at the county teaching hospital, I applied, was selected, and launched my career as a GI nurse. That was in 1987 and 15 years later, I'm sure it was one of the best career moves I've ever made!


So what do I love about our specialty? I love the advanced practice setting. I love working with a diverse patient population: some patients very stable and independent, others critically ill and dependent on the GI nurse's expertise and skill. I enjoy patient teaching about disease processes, lifestyle management, medications, and symptom assessment. I enjoy assisting with procedures: some invasive, some not; some diagnostic and basic, others therapeutic and quite technical.


What else do I love about the GI nursing specialty? I love the collegiality shared among the multidisciplinary team in the GI setting. I find the technology fascinating, the variability in the work pace enjoyable, and the possibility for a routine work schedule a true blessing. The nursing colleagues I work with in GI are bright, dedicated, and committed to high standards. The physicians I've met respect nurses' opinions and value the expertise of the GI nurses they work alongside. The technicians and clerical staff in GI recognize the important contributions they make to the team and project an attitude of responsibility and caring.


I also love the sense of unity within the specialty. The opportunity to invest in GI nursing through membership and service in our professional organization, the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA), provided professional growth I had never expected of myself. While the specialty possesses a moderate-size membership, we are not so large that networking and interaction among colleagues becomes overwhelming. I am amazed at the close friends I have made in GI nursing and the expertise they willingly share with me. I love seeing these friends face-to-face at GI meetings or dialoging regularly via e-mail or telephone. Even the opportunity to learn from international colleagues is readily available in GI nursing because of the strong GI nursing organizations that have emerged around the world.


So what do you love about the GI nursing specialty? Spellerberg (2001) notes that different specialties appeal to different personalities. I'm sure many of you will relate to some of the things I've highlighted and others will enjoy totally different aspects of GI nursing practice. Regardless, it is important to periodically reflect on why we choose to spend our time in this specialty, caring for patients with GI needs, maintaining a demanding mix of skill and expertise, investing in the future of GI nursing. I encourage you to articulate your perspectives. Talk about your reasons for being in GI nursing with your colleagues. Share your loves and your frustrations. Determine if the pros and cons maintain a balance, or do they tip excessively in one direction or the other?


Our discipline is demanding. The specialty of GI nursing offers an opportunity to maximize the pleasure and satisfaction of delivering nursing care in a unique setting. GI nurses need to clearly articulate the strengths of the specialty, the importance of the work we do, the knowledge we hold, and the value of a GI nurse in healthcare. We need to remember our love for the specialty and share that with our patients and colleagues.


So what do you think? Is our GI nursing specialty special? Let me hear from you. Write and share your thoughts. Give examples from your practice that demonstrate why you love the GI nursing specialty. And frequently remind yourself of that love and passion for your "special" nursing specialty.




1. Spellerberg, D. (2001). What makes your specialty special? Nursing Spectrum, 2 (11), 14S-15S. [Context Link]