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      Former cardiac nurse brings specialty training to Rockford Gastro

      Dawn Vernon

      Dawn Vernon brings more than 20 years of experience in the field of cardiology to her direct work with GI patients as a board-certified adult nurse practitioner at Rockford Gastroenterology Associates (RGA).

      Vernon grew up in the north-central Illinois town of El Paso, earning her Bachelor of Science Degree (BSN) in Nursing from Millikin University in 1993. She and her husband moved to Rockford the same year.

      Once in Rockford, she served as a telemetry floor nurse at SwedishAmerican Hospital and circulated as a nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab before leaving in 2001 to work for Rockford Cardiology Associates (RCA). There, she worked as a nurse for one of the cardiologists, assisting with daily rounds and consultations. In 2006, Vernon earned her Master of Science Degree (MSN) in Nursing from Northern Illinois University and continued at as an Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) at RCA.

      In December 2014, she joined the RGA team. She was familiar with RGA's physicians, as there was some crossover between her past cardiac work and patients with gastrointestinal (GI) issues. She added that "RGA is known for the longevity of its staff and for providing top GI care in the region," and those were important factors when she was considering a change in her career direction.

      Vernon was intrigued by the GI field's large scope, which covers more than just the stomach and the colon (and includes such issues as infections, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), GI cancers and swallowing problems). She also enjoys working closely with RGA patients who have cardiac diagnoses, as she's familiar with the diseases and the medications used to treat them. Blood thinners and vascular diseases, for example, can affect the GI system.

      "That's what I like because every day is different," Vernon noted. "It's constantly a different story, but there is commonality. When patients come to us, we have steps, protocols and research that guide us."

      Fear of the unknown often prevents patients from seeing a specialist, but Vernon said RGA's quality of care is excellent, "from the beginning of the journey and throughout the whole process," she said. "We strive for that – for patients to understand what they're going through and be treated with care and respect."

      At RGA, Vernon has developed an interest in treating patients with IBD (including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), as the chronic disorder has crossover with such specialties as dermatology, ophthalmology and rheumatology.

      "IBD is a very complicated set of disorders but also pretty straightforward in how you address the symptoms," Vernon explained. "Our doctors are very good at staying up on the treatment guidelines. Compliance is a big factor in successful treatment for IBD. A lot of patients start to feel better and stop their medications – much like with any disease – because it's hard to visualize what's happening inside the body within the layers of the colon."

      Away from work, Vernon is an avid sports fan, and loves to read and scrapbook. She lives in Stillman Valley with her husband, Rick, and they have two adult children.

      Reflecting on the past three years, Vernon is happy to have made the switch to RGA.

      "I was ready for a change. I wanted to learn and be challenged differently," she said. "There's a lot of openness here at RGA, which is the best way to take care of patients. The staff here is willing to ask questions and work hard. We all work together for the common good of our patients and the greater community."

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