1. Section Editor(s): Baker, Kathy PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, FCNS, FAAN
  2. Editor-in-Chief

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Having just celebrated our 50th anniversary at the annual course in Phoenix, I have been contemplating the incredible opportunities the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA) has afforded me to give back to my profession and specialty across my 36 years of membership. I was also thrilled to find an organization whose vision aligned with my priority to work toward developing and empowering our diverse gastroenterology professional community in the delivery of excellent gastroenterology patient care. Becoming an SGNA member is one of the best decisions I have made, both professionally and personally. When I joined our nursing specialty, I knew absolutely nothing about endoscopy other than what I had been involved with at the bedside caring for intensive care unit patients who needed to be scoped in the unit. Most of my colleagues were reluctant to assist in bedside endoscopy because a frank gastrointestinal bleed usually involved a great deal of cleanup following the bedside procedure. I can't say I particularly enjoyed that aspect, but I was fascinated by endoscopy and the ability to immediately diagnose as well as treat patients who were experiencing a life-threatening gastric bleed.

Kathy Baker, PhD, AP... - Click to enlarge in new windowKathy Baker, PhD, APRN, ACNS-BC, FCNS, FAAN

In those days, video endoscopy was yet to be imagined, but I was invited to share the "viewing lens" with the endoscopist who talked me through what I was seeing and how we could manage the patient's bleed after diagnosis. Of particular benefit of course was the ability to see where a lesion was located and whether or not it was actively bleeding. Eventually, when a manager position in endoscopy opened at our county teaching hospital, I gathered my courage, took a risk and applied, and was fortunate enough to be selected. Not long into my role, another unit manager from a competitor hospital reached out to introduce herself and offer her support. I was thrilled because I had so many questions about how to effectively manage an endoscopy department. Seeing an opportunity, the manager quickly introduced me to a local group of gastroenterology nurses and associates, the North Texas SGNA regional, and I was quick to affiliate. By the way, that collaborative unit manager was Flo Shaffer, RN, who served as the 1981-1982 national SGNA president. To this day, she still sends me a thoughtful note or encouraging e-mail about one of my recent editorials or something happening at the national level. I feel confident she is going to be thrilled to hear that North Texas won the Outstanding Regional at this year's annual course!


I found my local SGNA regional consisted of a diverse group of nurses and associates who loved our specialty and had valuable information and guidance to help me quickly gain comfort in both delivering care and leading a dynamic endoscopic department. During those early years of my endoscopy experience, I served on every North Texas SGNA regional committee and board position, recruiting other new endoscopy nurses and associates to join SGNA and benefit from the exceptional knowledge, education, and collaboration that was a hallmark of our North Texas SGNA regional. Through the regional experience, I learned the national organization held an annual meeting that provided exceptional learning opportunities with faculty from across the country. After attending my first annual course, I was hooked. The networking with nurses and associates from so many diverse settings as well as the quality educational offerings, many provided by peer members in SGNA, quickly helped me realize I was where I belonged. I made lifelong friendships and found a place to satisfy my interests and desire to give back to gastroenterology nursing.


Eventually, I gained the courage to volunteer my service to SGNA at the national level where I had the incredible experience of serving on the Certifying Board of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (CBGNA) (now recognized as the American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses [ABCGN]). Not long after finishing my CBGNA board service as president, I was unexpectedly asked to serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Gastroenterology Nursing (GNJ), an opportunity that I cherish because it allows me to capitalize on my interests and extend my passion for enhancing nursing scholarship in our specialty.


As the GNJ editor, I sit as an ex-officio member of the SGNA Board of Directors, allowing me to stay informed about the immediate goals and priorities of the organization. As such, I benefit not only from the exceptional role models leading our organization but also from my collaboration with our exceptional SGNA staff. SGNA provided me with formal training to be an effective leader that not only has benefited my role as GNJ Editor-in-Chief but also is then translated into the roles I now fulfill as an academic faculty member as well as a volunteer leader in other nursing organizations. What I have learned from my service in SGNA has also contributed to my community roles as a church leader and parent roles in various volunteer organizations. Quite unexpectedly as I initiated my journey with SGNA, my membership experiences allowed me to pass on these rich years of shared knowledge and experience to others in my community of influence.


Giving back is typically a priority goal of many nurses and associates. When asked, "Why did you choose healthcare?" a common answer is "Because I want to help others." Membership in SGNA translates into exactly that. I have recognized there is a mutual benefit to joining SGNA and actively volunteering to serve in the organization. Getting outside of my practice setting to meet with other nurses and associates allows me to expand my experiences, become aware of new knowledge and new approaches to care, as well as engage with nursing experts regionally, nationally, and internationally.


Volunteering to be an active member has allowed me to be a part of shaping and then moving the mission of our organization forward to meet member needs. Engaging as a member allows me to not only contribute to the sustainability of our organization but also the sustainability and growth of our gastroenterology specialty and nursing discipline.


Growing our SGNA membership is critical for our specialty's future. We need diversity in our membership to adequately meet the needs of all gastroenterology nurses and associates. We need the experience of members with different roles and responsibilities; diverse ages and years of practice experience; different cultural, racial, and ethnic insights and experiences; and who are practicing in diverse settings and locations. We need members who are interested in making meaningful contributions in areas that suit your skills, interests, and experiences. For some of us, that interest may be to build a strong regional community of nurses and associates. Others of you may enjoy networking on a grander scale, so serving on a national task force, committee, or even the SGNA Board of Directors might be an area where you choose to give.


Thinking about where SGNA has been these first 50 years gives me great pause to think about the next 50 years. We should always be vested in seeking to expand our membership so that we can experience new views and perspectives to keep our organization relevant and meaningful. We need new, younger leaders who can take our first 50 years of organizational knowledge from previous SGNA leaders and blend that with fresh perspectives from a new generation of members. The stronger our membership, the stronger our resources in terms of people, intellect, vision, and dollars. Stronger SGNA resources then translate into innovative educational programs, advocacy for patients as well as nurses and associates, and experiences that transcend our own organization to broadly impact our specialty, discipline, and communities.


Make it a priority during our 50th anniversary year to recruit and retain members that will sustain and extend the organization so that we can fulfill our SGNA mission: to advance the science and practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy nursing through education, research, advocacy, and collaboration and to provide professional development opportunities for gastroenterology nurses and associates in an atmosphere of mutual support. Becoming a member is the most important step to sustaining SGNA. But engagement, whether at the regional or national level, gives you an opportunity to capitalize on your strengths, interests, experiences, and gifts to give back to our specialty, discipline, patients, and greater community in a meaningful way. Your SGNA membership matters!