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.