Passing on Life’s Lessons

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Vol. 5 •Issue 18 • Page 10
In the Spotlight

Passing on Life’s Lessons

One of the first certified bariatric nurses in the country applies her personal experiences to patient care

Bariatric surgery is not for everyone. According to the American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS), about 15 million people in the U.S. have morbid obesity, but only 1 percent of the clinically eligible population has undergone bariatric surgery.

Tammy Beaumont, BSN, RN,BC, CBN, a nurse at Arlington Memorial Hospital, Arlington, TX, happily reports she is one of those patients. This summer, she joined an even more elite group as she took the first-ever ASBS exam to become a certified bariatric nurse (CBN).

Beaumont had been overweight all her life, developing hypertension at age 30 and weighing 266 pounds by age 41.

“When I had bariatric surgery in November 2003, I woke up in the hospital realizing this experience was going to change my life,” Beaumont recalled. “I knew my nursing career was going to change, because I wanted to impact the lives of people going through exactly what I had gone through.”

She lost 135 pounds in 1 year and still maintains a healthy weight today. However, her nursing background did not make the decision to have surgery any easier, Beaumont said.

“I had a negative impression of bariatrics, because I was only exposed to the hospital patients who came in with complications. It wasn’t until a co-worker had the surgery that I saw the reality of bariatrics — for every complication I may have seen, there were literally hundreds of patients who never had a problem. I think a great many people in the healthcare community still have misconceptions about the surgery,” she added.

The Real Deal

Beaumont was an ideal candidate for bariatric surgery in 2003. Since then, she’s become the ideal advocate for patients with many of the same health problems, questions, doubts and fears she had 4 years ago.

“Bariatric surgery requires a lot of education, because what patients are opting for is a total lifestyle change,” she explained.

“I’d like to think I lead our program by example. I’ve been told more than once that seeing me that first day helped them make the final decision to proceed,” Beaumont said.

Sometimes, she has even more impact on family members who have not done the same extensive research as the patient.

“The moment I’m most proud of is when I met a husband who had refused to participate in any preop education,” Beaumont said. “I met him on the nursing unit the night after his wife’s surgery. I chatted casually with them both and showed him my preop picture. I always carry it with me. Later, his wife told me how his whole demeanor changed at that moment and he began to support and encourage the changes she was making.”

Success stories like this keep Beaumont excited about her chosen specialty, but sharing her personal story hasn’t been easy.

“As an obese person all my life, I wanted to blend in. Being in the spotlight with this program can be uncomfortable but rewarding at the same time,” she said.

A deep commitment to nursing helped her overcome a self-conscious nature. She now tells patients, “I’m the here and now — the real deal!”

Why Certify?

Beaumont’s commitment led to her decision to gain credentials in the field. The credential became available for the first time in June from the ASBS. Nurses were enthusiastic about the CBN exam, and the association plans to administer exams twice annually. RNs who pass the test receive a 4-year certification.

To be eligible for the exam, RNs must have a current license in the U.S. or Puerto Rico and complete a minimum of 24 months (in the preceding 4 years) nursing patients who are morbidly obese or have undergone bariatric surgery.

Care From A to Z

The extraordinary level of care required by patients who have bariatric surgery is exactly what makes this nursing specialty so exciting, Beaumont explained. Treatment goes far beyond the surgery itself.

Nursing care can begin as early as the informational seminars that almost all programs require. Nurses can be involved in the preop process in not only trying to interpret and explain the insurance carrier’s preop requirements, but also each individual surgery program’s requirements. Patients in Arlington Memorial’s program need nutritional, psychological, and fitness evaluations. They must attend a preop support group meeting and, finally, a 3-4 hour preop class taught by Beaumont. She also monitors the surgery and provides periodic updates to the family. The nurses on the bariatric unit care for the patients postoperatively and continue the teaching process through discharge.

Beaumont even facilitates monthly support group meetings, so it’s no wonder she develops exceptional rapport with patients. As the program expands, she plans to continue this personal approach.

“Being a bariatric nurse all boils down to being a life coach,” she concluded. “My patients, Arlington Memorial and the surgeons from Arlington Surgical Association have a lot of faith in my experience and judgment. I have never loved a job so much!”

Lola Howle is regional editor at ADVANCE.

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