A gastroenterology nurse provides direct care and support for patients who suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, including chronic illnesses and acute bodily injuries. He or she aids doctors in making diagnoses and choosing appropriate treatment measures. In addition, a gastroenterology nurse educates patients about their conditions and what they can do to manage symptoms at home. Most professionals work for inpatient hospitals, private specialty practices, and surgical centers, but some nurses act as home care specialists and nutrition consultants.
Gastroenterology nurses see patients with many different GI conditions, including acid reflux disease, ulcers, chronic stomach cramps, and irritable bowel syndrome. When meeting with a new patient a nurse usually reviews his or her medical history, checks vital signs, and asks about symptoms. Information is passed on to the physician who can determine if diagnostic tests are necessary. The nurse might need to prepare the patient for an exploratory endoscopic procedure, x-rays, or computerized tomography scans.
After a diagnosis has been made, the gastroenterology nurse and the doctor explain treatment options. Many disorders can be managed with medications and lifestyle changes, and a nurse can describe what the patient needs to do to return to good health. He or she needs to be familiar with dietary recommendations for certain conditions to ensure the patient is given accurate, helpful information.
Some gastroenterology nurses attend surgeries in hospitals and outpatient surgical centers. They prepare operating rooms, assist during surgical procedures, and provide expert aftercare. Following a procedure, the nurse typically treats and dresses surgical wounds and explains different home care techniques.
A person who wants to become a gastroenterology nurse usually needs to complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program and pass a national test to earn registered nurse credentials. Most nurses work in emergency rooms or general hospital units for several years before looking for jobs in the specialty to gain practical experience. Continuing education classes can help prepare a practicing nurse for a gastroenterology position at a hospital or private doctor's office.
A nurse can improve his or her credentials and chances of finding work by passing voluntary certification exams. Organizations such as the American Board of Certification for Gastroenterology Nurses offer exams and membership opportunities to help new nurses get started in their careers. With ongoing experience and continuing education, a skilled gastroenterology nurse may be able to advance to a head nurse role or an administrative position within a hospital.