Humble Beginnings

While the specialty of GI Nursing began in the early 1940s, it wasn’t until several decades later that fiberoptic endoscopy emerged as the standard therapy for many GI diseases. With it, technology continued to blossom, as did the need for assistants who were organized, skilled, and well trained in the practice. Therein the birth of the national Society of Gastrointestinal Assistants (SGA) took place in 1974. Membership grew rapidly, and in 1977, nine regional societies were created, allowing members from all over the country to meet during the year in geographically accessible areas. Region 16 received their first Charter in 1977, based upon the foundation set by nurse Juanita Weathers. Our goals today are much like the goals of the first South Florida SGA officers:

  • gather information
  • establish guidelines for future professionals
  • expand educational opportunities

ensure safe, high quality patient care

SGA’s formal education courses were held in May, concurrent with the educational meeting of the gastroenterologists during Digestive Disease Week (DDW). Long-range planning was concentrated on the creation of SGA Bylaws, publication of the first issue of the SGA Journal, Standards of Practice, and certification for the Gastrointestinal Assistant (GIA). By 1986, 43 regional societies were chartered, and the annual course meeting held its first certifying exam. To better define its membership, in 1989 the name of the organization was changed to the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, Inc. (SGNA). At the same time, the SGA Journal became Gastroenterology Nursing, and took on a more professional format. THIS IS NOW Today, there are more than 8,500 members of the SGNA nationally, organized into 64 Regional Societies. Membership extends to 16 other countries as well. As a Regional Society, the SGNA of South Florida offers continuing education conferences held locally, giving members the opportunity to stay informed of innovations and standard in the field of gastroenterology nursing. You, our members ,are vital to everything we do. Look for updates on our website, and feel free to contact us with ideas, or suggestions for future meetings. We would love to hear from you.

About SGNA/Mission Statement

The Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates is a professional organization of nurses and associates dedicated to the safe and effective practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy nursing. SGNA carries out its mission by advancing the science and practice of gastroenterology and endoscopy nursing through education, research, advocacy, and collaboration, and by promoting the professional development of its members in an atmosphere of mutual support.

History of SGNA

In 1969, Marna L. Schirmer, RN, the founder of SGNA, was practicing in the operating room of Mount Sinai Hospital Medical Center in New York. Her duties included assisting gastroenterologists with procedures using the then-current technologies of gastrocamera, Hirshowitz esophagoscope and rigid sigmoidoscope. Flexible gastroscopes and colonoscopes were just being introduced at that time.

Ms. Schirmer attended the national ASGE meetings in 1970 and 1971, where she noted a number of young women (too young to be residents or fellows) in attendance, wearing “non-member in-training” badges. She subsequently obtained from one of the physicians at her facility the names and addresses of gastroenterologists across the country, from whom she requested the names and addresses of the nurses who were assisting them with procedures.

In the summer of 1972 she wrote to these nurses, asking if they would be interested in exchanging ideas and knowledge about their profession related to GI procedures. A core group of nurses and associates corresponded regularly, and formed a steering committee to coordinate the then-unnamed group. With 300 people on their mailing list, the focus was on networking and sharing of information.

In May of 1973, Dr. H. Worth Boyce, President of ASGE, offered the group a meeting room at the ASGE annual meeting in San Francisco. Ninety people attended that gathering, at which a name was chosen – Society of Gastrointestinal Assistants (SGA). The steering committee continued to lead the Society for another year until the first Annual Convention could be held in 1974.

The goals of this fledgling organization were to collect information, establish guidelines for future professionals, and expand specialized educational opportunities. SGA decided to hold its annual meetings in May, concurrent with the national educational meeting of gastroenterologists.

The first issue of the SGA Journal was published in 1977, and nine regional societies were established to give members the chance to meet and network locally. In 1989, SGA changed its name to the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates, Inc. (SGNA) to better reflect the composition of its membership. The journal title was changed at that time to Gastroenterology Nursing.

The certification of GI nurses and associates had its beginning in the early 1980s, with the first exam administered to 666 candidates in 1986.

Membership in the Society is over 8,000, 88% of whom are Voting Licensed Nurses, 5% Voting Associates and 7% Affiliate Members.