For the past several years, attending Sigma’s congress has been a highpoint of my summer. This year amidst a global pandemic I imagine it was tempting to cancel, but I applaud Sigma for arranging a virtual event. During this unprecedented time of social isolation and uncertainty, I’m thankful Sigma found a way for us to engage! This conference brought over 600 nurse researchers together from across the globe, and I was so inspired by their work. That is why Sigma’s congress is so important to me.
Being inspired by others is likened to Steiner’s (2017) “heart thinking,” a higher knowledge derived from inspiration—inspiration that allows thinking beyond the “limits of our personal view.” If we are to attain this higher knowledge heart thinking, Steiner says that we must counteract the headlong rush of thoughts and feelings that continually bombard us, forcing a reactive thinking mode. For me, congress was my time to pause from the unrest of the global pandemic and dwell in the camaraderie and inspiration gleaned from my colleagues.
Because of congress, both in-person and virtually, I see nursing from the expanded lens of colleagues who offer sage advice and evidence-based recommendations. For instance, during the 2016 congress in Cape Town, South Africa, I happened to be planning an inaugural trip to Ghana for an undergraduate health promotion course the following summer. I attended a session presented by Ghanaians who stayed after the presentation to share cultural subtleties and details about their healthcare system that I would not have otherwise known from the background readings. Later that day at lunch, I had the good fortune of meeting colleagues who were seasoned at conducting similar immersion trips to Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. When I asked for ideas on activities to engage children of different ages at the Mampong Babies Home we were planning to visit, they suggested planting a garden, playing soccer, and reading the storybooks we would bring. We did just that.
The virtual congress retained one of my favorite features, the International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame. The celebration of this elite group of researchers with exemplary programs of study brings to full circle their years of hard work and is aspirational, especially for the Rising Stars of Research and Scholarship. I hope they see themselves as future recipients of the coveted International Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame recognition and start planning to that end.
This year’s attendees had the advantage of watching the prerecorded sessions before, during, or after their scheduled time, and poster sessions have extended hours of availability, so the virtual format is user-friendly across time zones. As a presenter, I most looked forward to the question and answer period after the session to ascertain how the audience responded to my work, share contact information, and schedule follow-up meetings for the possibility of future collaboration.
Congress affirms my individual and nursing’s collective responsibility to improve the world’s healthcare, reorients my thinking to that end, and proffers new ways of fulfilling that responsibility. While I love a live audience, prerecording my session through countless retakes made me realize that skill was underdeveloped and prompted me to create brief video clips to connect with my students and colleagues. (I highly recommend the Sigma webinar COVID-19 Resource: Pearls and Pitfalls of Virtual Programming.)
All in all, I would say congress has become a loyal friend of mine. It has challenged me to expand my “heart thinking,” learn new skills I now deem essential, and reaffirm my role in improving the world’s healthcare. Congress leadership, staff, and participants no doubt worked tirelessly to transform the offering to a virtual event, a task not for the faint of heart. At the end of congress, I know participants came away thinking, as I have always vowed, “It’s time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through…” (Frozen).
Steiner, R. (2017). Heart thinking: Inspired knowledge. East Essex, United Kingdom: Rudolph Steiner Press.
Walt Disney Animated Studios. (2013). Frozen.
Dr. Monica Kennison, EdD, RN, is the Susan V. Clayton Nursing Chair and Professor and is a member of Sigma’s Delta Psi at Large Chapter at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, USA.