Reflecting on the amazing experience of the Rebel Nursing conference in Philadelphia, I realize that I “speak” from several different voices, each with her own perspective, but all in awe of what happened in the Claire Fagin Hall School of nursing building on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania last week! So for this blog, I am mostly going to share highlights of each of these perspectives … maybe an essay will emerge later with more detail! I am sure that lots of conversation will emerge as well … my own and each of you who read this!
So to begin, the anticipation that I felt in going to the conference, based on the planning group’s ideals that I wrote about in my last post, came to full fruition and more! Each of the ideals that the women who organized the conference became real in moment to moment experience! The fundamental guiding principle of the conference — “justice and liberation for health seekers, health workers, and communities” became alive and real. The conference provided access for all, starting with the registration fee of $0 – 100. The catered lunch, which cost $7, was vegetarian/vegan with options for gluten-free and other dietary restrictions. Child care was available at no charge. Bathrooms were gender neutral. There were no “stars” – everyone present had a voice, and all the sessions were presented by folks who had volunteered based on what they could contribute. There was a room for pop-up sessions .. if anyone wanted to have a session on any topic at any time .. sign up and the room is yours. There was a phone number posted everywhere to call if you needed emotional support at any time.
Sarah Lipkin started the conference with a brilliant opening presentation that set out the underlying philosophy and intentions of the conference. In her presentation she listed the many ways that nurses are rebellious – when we advocate for our patients who are not getting what they need, when we challenge what is accepted as “the way things are done” .. I could go on, but I could not do justice here to her amazing words. She will be publishing what she presented …
Each and every one of the sessions I attended were amazing and eye-opening. Jane Palmieri (from Oregon) facilitated a discussion on nursing education with the overall goal being to identify ways in which nursing education needs to change. Almost everyone in the room were students (most in advanced practice programs) and there were many issues that we addressed. Each person, I am sure, would shed light on the breadth of our discussion! For me, the highlight was the frustration that people felt about the narrow, medicalized focus on their education, and how lacking it is in terms of social and political and environmental determinants of health, and how many populations and cultures are left out of the discussion or treated in superficial ways. We did come up with some ideas for making change – the primary one being the importance of networks of support to do the work that needs to be done. We will continue our conversations virtually – Jane is creating an email connection for all of us.
LGBTQ issues were big, and there was a strong and mighty presence of trans nurses, who, in most nursing contexts are either invisible or silenced or both. I had an amazing and eye-opening “critical reflection” exchange with a person in my group on overcoming horizontal violence, asking me to consider the perspective of the trans community related to Janice Raymond’s controversial book titled “The Transexual Empire.” The substance of our discussion was vitally important, but the fact that this conversation even occurred was even more significant. How often can this even be imagined in most of our lives?
I have told many people since returning home about how wonderful this experience was, but at the same time it certainly challenged my comfort zone! I actually hope it challenged everyone’s comfort zone … after all .. isn’t that what making change is all about?! So stay tuned .. we will “talk” more about this in good time! Meanwhile, download the program here .. and browse to see for yourself something of what this conference was about. And stay tuned for the next conference .. it will happen again!!!