National Conference Planning Committee
Matthew Smith likens taking on the role of National Conference Director for the 40th Annual National Conference of the Canadian Nursing Students' Association (CNSA) to being "like having a seventh-string quarterback called in to play in the Superbowl.'
The fourth-year McMaster nursing student said assuming the responsibility had been surreal and almost overwhelming, since it was his first extracurricular activity. "I wish I'd gotten involved sooner, because it's been an absolutely wonderful experience.'
After a successful bid to host the conference in Hamilton, Smith and his 10-member National Conference Planning Committee, made up of fellow nursing students, were awarded the conference in January of 2010. With the help of about 20 volunteers, the dedicated team managed to pull off the largest national conference in CNSA history, with 862 nursing students – 271 more than last year – from across the country assembling at the Hamilton Convention Centre to take part in professional development and networking with peers, presenters and potential employers, from Jan. 26 – 29, 2011.
Angelina Kabatoff, a third-year student at the University of Saskatchewan, was attending her first national conference and said she found the workshops very valuable. "Getting everyone together helps our confidence to make change in our schools and careers, and reminds us that we have a voice as nurses.'
Second-year University of Windsor nursing student Joshua Pfaff remarked that the conference served to "renew your spirit in nursing,' and added, "It's important to enhance our educational experience and understanding of patient care, and to learn from the experts in the field.
The positive feedback was not lost on Smith and his team.
"Just seeing everything come to fruition – people have been really impressed with the speakers, workshops, and the smooth transition – after 14 months of planning, putting an image to the dream and plan we've had has been really special to me,' he said.
Deputy Conference Coordinator Michelle Lanteigne echoed Smith, saying, "I've been blown away by the response from people across the country. This has exceeded our expectations of what a conference of this magnitude could be and as to what our group of 10 people, really novices at planning a conference, could accomplish.'
The theme of this year's event was "Discover the Opportunities, Find Your Passion' and was meant to inspire attendees to realize their passion and uncover their potential by exploring the many opportunities available to them in an evolving nursing landscape.
Through guest speaker presentations, panel discussions and workshops, participants explored key topics like: nursing leadership development; new graduate transition; politics and health care; interprofessionalism; and the many diverse fields within nursing, such as inner-city, outpost and international.
The planning committee was able to attract high-profile keynote speakers who inspired and delighted the crowds.
The speech of world-renowned nursing theorist Jean Watson, who developed the Caring Theory, the Watson Caring Science Institute and the International Caritas Consortium, was the highlight of the conference for many. Tilda Shalof, author of the national bestseller A Nurse's Story and The Making of a Nurse, also presented Thursday, urging the group to speak out about their work and tell their stories.
On Friday, Judy Boychuk Duchscher discussed the ups and downs of her 32-year nursing career and how nurses must navigate their career with purpose. "It's not about being the brightest, but being the hungriest,' she told the crowd, adding it is important to "embed yourself in whatever you are experiencing.'
Boychuk Duchscher intimately described how the tragic death of her father inspired her decision to launch Nursing the Future, her non-profit organization that supports new graduates and their transition into the workforce.
Street nurse Cathy Crowe, who wrote Dying for a Home and is currently a part-time faculty member with the McMaster School of Nursing, described how when passion, power and politics come together, nurses can play a major role in reducing social injustice. "It's probably the most important thing I can do at this point in my career is talk to nursing students,' she said.
Another highlight was an international panel discussion where two Haitian nursing students, Nicole Mathurin and Barbara Fumelus – both survivors of last year's devastating earthquake in Haiti – delivered a gripping and courageous presentation and took questions from an audience in awe.
Next year's CNSA National Conference will be hosted by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Sask.