1. Heard, Lisa RN, CGRN

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As a nurse, I continually seek to validate my skills and knowledge. I am fortunate to have the means to attain this. Specializing in gastroenterology nursing, attending educational courses, and achieving certification in my specialty are ways that assisted me in validating my competency as a gastrointestinal (GI) nurse. Standards and guidelines written by experts in the GI nursing field guide my nursing practice. The same is not necessarily true for other roles and disciplines in our field of gastroenterology. I speak mainly of the GI Associate.

FIGURE. Lisa Heard, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFIGURE. Lisa Heard, RN, CGRN

Typically, the GI Associate has varied job descriptions and roles. Depending on the geographical area or practice setting, this may range from the responsibilities of endoscope reprocessing to assisting the healthcare team during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). Imagine working in a role where the definition may differ just by crossing the street to another facility!! Because of this, GI Associates seek standardization in their training and education, using the SGNA standards as a guide in this endeavor.


In 2001, SGNA published a Position Statement entitled "Role Delineation of Unlicensed Assistive Personnel in Gastroenterology" (SGNA, 2001). This was a step to further define and lend structure to the Associate's diverse role. The advent of the SGNA Train-the-Trainer course in 2003 is another way the organization has assisted GI nurses to educate and guide the GI Associate. This course uses SGNA Standards and Guidelines to teach technicians and Associates proper cleaning and disinfection of endoscopes, as well as provide recognition of the knowledge and skills resulting from their training.


In the past, another means for the GI Associate to validate their skills was by becoming a Certified Gastroenterology Technician (CGT) or Associate (CGA). In 1998, however, the Certifying Board of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (CBGNA) made the difficult decision to no longer administer the GI Associates certification exam. The lack of sufficient Associate candidates to insure statistical validity, the financial reality of attempting to offer a program in which few candidates were participating, and a lack of Associate participation as item writers were some of the reasons CBGNA made this decision.


Certification programs can only be offered by organizations who are accredited to assess competence. CBGNA is certified by the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA). In turn, NOCA and the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). SGNA is in fact accredited by NCCA to provide nurses with continuing education credits; however, it is not accredited to provide a certification program for Associates or nurses. Only CBGNA can offer a certification program.


In response to a desire to address Associate member needs, the SGNA Board of Directors formed the Associates Task Force (ATF) in October 2003. Consisting of three GI Associates, two registered nurses (RN) from the SGNA board of directors, and a staff liaison from SGNA headquarters, the task force mission was to identify and address the needs of the Associate member within SGNA.


The main topic of concern voiced by Associates was the desire to bring back the Associate certification in gastroenterology. In direct response to this concern, the ATF began plans for an SGNA-produced skills validation and recognition program. At the February SGNA Board of Directors meeting, the ATF presented a proposal outlining a plan for implementing an Associate skill validation test. The board of directors unanimously approved this plan.


Presently, an online Associate credentialing program is in development by SGNA's Education Committee. This program, consisting of eight modules, will cover areas such as patient care, the Associate's role and responsibilities, emergency preparedness, anatomy, endoscope reprocessing, equipment overview, infection control, and safety in the workplace. Upon successful completion of all eight modules and post-tests, the Associate will receive a skills validation certificate and the title of a GI Technical Specialist (GTS).


Many committed GI Associates and RNs are interested in supporting the new program. SGNA hopes this program will meet many of the needs and desires Associates have expressed: the need to further their education, validate their practice, and gain recognition. We also hope this program will increase the Associate membership. Increased numbers of Associates within the organization may lead the way to exploring a formal "certification" again.


As we educate and validate ourselves as GI nursing professionals, we must remember to help Associates do the same. How? Encourage Associates to join SGNA. More Associates will result in an increased presence and participation in SGNA. Nurses within SGNA must continue to promote the professional development of the Associates. This may be done by helping define the expanded role of the Associate, ensuring Associates are trained to SGNA standards, and encouraging Associates in practice to participate in the online validation program. Supporting the Associate member of SGNA will ultimately provide our patients with trained, competent, professional care.




Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates. (2001). SGNA position statement: Role delineation of unlicensed assistive personnel in gastroenterology. Gastroenterology Nursing, 24 (4), 206-207 [Context Link]