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Changing the World From 66 Degrees North

September 28, 2015

From its fiery mountains and green plains to its icy glaciers, the small country of Iceland, located near the top of the globe in the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, is a place unlike any other.

The University of Minnesota’s connection to Iceland is also unique. For more than 30 years, the University of Iceland and the University of Minnesota have shared a rich history of student and faculty exchange, research collaboration, and cultural engagement. Students like Dr. Thora Jenny Gunnarsdottir and Dr. Gisli Kristofferson — both residents of Iceland who earned their PhD’s in Nursing at the University of Minnesota — have benefited from the educational experiences provided by the exchange.

While studying at the University of Minnesota, both students formed long-lasting relationships with Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer. In 2014, when Kreitzer and Dr. Mary Koithan were writing their book, “Integrative Nursing,” which was published by Oxford University Press, they reached out to Kristofferson and Gunnarsdottir to join other nurses from around the globe in providing information and aspirations about the field of integrative nursing.

It’s no wonder, then, that when Gunnarsdottir proposed Iceland as a location for the 1st International Integrative Nursing Symposium — a gathering unlike any other — Kreitzer and Koithan readily agreed.

People had many reasons for attending.

“I chose to attend the Symposium to gain a more global perspective on integrative nursing, and also to learn from other nurses,” said Dr. Laura Sandquist, a nurse practitioner at Touchstone Mental Health in Minneapolis.

Neus Esmel, from Catalonia in Spain, looked toward the future. “Integrative nursing is a future investment that aligns with my philosophy in life, my professional and personal interests, so it was important that I attend,” she says.

Creating community was also important. “It’s important for integrative nurses to gather,” says Dr. Debbie Ringdahl, faculty at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing and in the School of Nursing. “Meeting as a group creates community, identifies similar goals, provides a forum for overcoming common obstacles, and adds opportunities to collectively discuss and introduce system change.”

For three days, participants met in the magnificent Harpa, Reykjavik’s ultramodern concert hall and conference center, surrounded by mountains and the sea, to learn from their colleagues.

Topics included the application of integrative nursing in a variety of clinical settings and with many different patient populations that cover the life span, and many chronic conditions, as well as health promotion.

“There is an incredible expertise in the global integrative nurse community of clinicians, educators, researchers, and policy leaders,” says Barbara Glickstein, a nurse and journalist from New York. “This growing body of knowledge is influencing the field of nursing, the evolution of interprofessional practice, and the delivery of health care in the world. The Symposium will be known as a foundational moment in the field of integrative nursing globally. It was shape shifting.”

Opportunities for camaraderie were also present — and encouraged. On the second night of the Symposium, nurses gathered for a conference dinner on Videy Island, which was only accessible by a 10-minute boat trip over an uneven sea. The evening included traditional Iceland folk songs, and warm welcomes by Gunnarsdottir and Kristofferson.

Gunnarsdottir noted, “Hosting the Symposium was one of the biggest moments in my life.”

Kreitzer, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing, was inspired by the diversity of nurses in attendance. “We had nurses who have been in practice for 30 or more years, including nurses in their 70s and 80s. We also had new graduates who aspire to practice in a different way,”

The Symposium also left many contemplating the future of the nursing field.

Mats Jong, an integrative nurse from Sweden, sees the future of integrative nursing in its roots. “In some sense, integrative nursing lifts up the essence of what nursing is all about, and has been all about since the practice of nursing began” he says.

“The Symposium was important to the field of nursing because it was an indication of global movement toward the practice of integrative nursing, and the power of nurse collaboration,” says Sandquist.

Rainer Ammende, an attendee from Germany, also felt that the Symposium had a world-changing impact. “Holding an international Symposium, publishing a book that defines the concepts of integrative nursing, and highlighting initial developments is a major milestone,” he says. “It is important that we dialogue, disseminate, learn from each other, and exchange our ideas.”

“It is clear that this type of care is what the public wants,” says Linda Halcón, associate professor at the University of Minnesota. “The self-care aspects of integrative nursing are the heart of what keeps nurses in the profession, and why nursing is the healthcare profession most trusted by patients.”

Koithan, who is Professor of Nursing, and Associate Dean for Professional and Community Engagement at the University of Arizona’s College of Nursing, also sees the future of integrative nursing addressing patient needs. “The public is demanding new ways to address chronic symptoms and problems,” she says. “In addition, systems changes will require more self-management with less expensive intervention strategies for common problems.

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu