Thing about your gastrointestinal system—everything from the nourishing food we take in for fuel to the waste that comes out passes through all the different parts. While you learn about all the GI anatomy in nursing school, there’s so much more that a nurse who specializes in this tract of the field needs to know. We interviewed Barbara Vodopest, RN, who works in the GI Lab at North Kansas City Hospital (NKCH) to get more information on what a GI nurse does.

In celebration of GI Nurses and Associates Week, she took time from her schedule to answer our questions. What follows is an edited version of the interview.

As an GI nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

Barbara Vodopest

Barbara Vodopest

I am involved in preparing patients for their GI procedures. This includes educating patients and their families about what to expect. I also work with them on intake forms, consent, vital assessments, and starting IVs as needed.

The majority of procedures we support on a daily basis are colonoscopies and EGDs (Esophagogastroduodenoscopies). However, we also perform a variety of sub-specialty procedures, including esophageal manometries, 24 and 72 pH catheter insertions, pill camera studies, CORTRAK feeding tube placements, ERCP (Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography) procedures, and fecal microbiota transplantations (FMT).

We believe an important component of our job is education. On the second Wednesday of every month, we spend time at the NKCH Wellness Corner located inside the North Kansas City YMCA. We are there to answer questions from members of the community related to GI conditions and procedures. We also spend time at community health fairs providing education on some of the most common GI-related issues, such as reflux and hemorrhoids.

Why did you choose this field of nursing?

After 30 years as a critical care nurse working with heart patients, I was ready for a change. I was drawn to GI by the variety of experiences you can have on a daily basis. I get to work with inpatients, outpatients, ICU cases, OR cases, and ER cases. I still get to use my critical care skills every day.

What changes, if any, have occurred lately (last year or so) in being a GI nurse?

Seeing the FMTs has been amazing! Even though it may not seem like something directly related to nursing, the nurses have a lot to do with the education as well as everything involved with the procedure.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

One of the biggest challenges is providing comfort to family members during a time that may be difficult. It’s an important part of our job, but it can be emotionally draining.

What are the greatest rewards?

One of the greatest rewards is getting to share good news with a patient. If a patient with a history of polyps or cancer gets the “all clear” after a check-up, they want to climb a mountain and shout with joy. You can’t help but feel good being a part of that.

Also, working with the team of nurses I get to work with on a daily basis is very rewarding. Many of us have similar backgrounds and similar workflows. It just feels good to come to work every day.

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work?

Med/surg nursing is what I would recommend for anyone in their first year of nursing. It will give you a solid foundation from which to build, and it will help you develop time-management skills, which are essential. After that, I’d recommend a critical care area before moving into GI. In fact, my daughter is also a nurse, and this is the advice I have given to her.

Is there anything else about being a GI nurse that is important for people to know?

We play an important role in setting expectations for patients before a procedure. Whether it’s a prep call in the days leading up to a procedure or the conversation we have the morning of a procedure, letting patients know how to prepare and what to expect decreases their anxiety and increases their likelihood of a successful procedure.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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