Surgery Center

When nurses at Park Nicollet Bariatric Surgery Center say, "I know what you're going through," they mean it — literally. Four of the five nurses have had bariatric surgery and know, firsthand, what challenges patients face.

"I look at my surgery as a rebirth," says Dorothy Miller, a bariatric nurse clinician with Park Nicollet Bariatric Surgery Center, who had the procedure five years ago. "Before my surgery, I felt like a time bomb. It was just a matter of time before something tragic happened to my health."

Since the procedure, Miller has lost more than 200 pounds — and kept it off. "It was absolutely the best thing I could have done for myself," she says. "I care more about the anniversary of my surgery than my actual birthday — it has given me a new start."

Miller worked in several areas of nursing before becoming a bariatric nurse clinician. "I chose to work here because I knew I could relate to the patients, they could relate to me, and really benefit from what I've been through," she says.

Comprehensive approach ensures success

"We have both walked that walk, and it helps us relate to our patients at every step," continues Barb Johnson, RN, another bariatric nurse clinician with Park Nicollet Bariatric Surgery Center. Johnson and Miller play important roles in the center's extensive pre- and postoperative programs.

The bariatric nurse clinicians offer free information sessions and assess prospective patients to determine if they are eligible for surgery. The nurses also set up subsequent assessments to make sure patients are emotionally and physically prepared for surgery.

Thorough presurgery evaluation

Psychological assessment evaluates patients to determine if they are able to make the necessary behavioral changes the surgery requires. "For many of us, food has been a comfort and now we have to find different coping mechanisms," Johnson says. (To learn more, read "Are you mentally and emotionally ready for change?")

Medical assessment makes sure patients are physically ready for surgery. A bariatrician (medical doctor) makes this determination based on a patient's medical history and current medical condition. This doctor also serves as a resource for patients' primary care doctors.

A registered dietitian evaluates patients' previous attempts at weight loss and recommends dietary changes in preparation for surgery. After surgery, the dietitian addresses patients' personal goals for protein, vitamins and minerals — and offers ongoing recommendations and support.

The physical therapist reviews patients' current level of activity and helps them develop exercise plans for before and after surgery. With most patients, long-terms goals are to exercise for 30 minutes most days of the week, but some patients need to work up to this.

Referrals, reputation attract patients

Park Nicollet Bariatric Surgery Center performs more than 470 weight-loss surgeries a year. Most of them are laparoscopic procedures, a minimally invasive approach that uses tiny incisions and greatly reduces recovery time. "Word of mouth referrals help bring people to our center from throughout the Midwest," says Johnson. "We have very low complication rates compared to the national average."

Patients also appreciate how the nurses relate to them. "Having been through the procedure ourselves, we can share our patients' joys and worries, especially as they wait for approval from insurance companies." We have a dedicated insurance specialist to help navigate a potentially hard to understand process. People also are attracted to the center's comprehensive follow-up program, which maintains ongoing relationships with patients. "We see patients one week after surgery, then monthly or quarterly the first year after surgery depending on the procedure, twice the second year and annually thereafter."

"It is a tough journey and a learning process all along. I think some people expect surgery to be a quick fix. Sometimes it isn't until five or six years later that people ‘get it' and understand they need to be responsible and accountable for their choices. When you follow the guidelines, they sure do work," Johnson adds.