Student Reflections on 2016 Optimizing Healthcare Quality Conference

By Leah Berolzheimer, UNC School of Nursing, BSN Class of 2017

An excerpt from my journal:

“…Sitting in a large hall amongst 800+ participants from 30+ nations, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride and ownership for my future profession. In this female-dominated room, people have come from all around the world, dressed in a myriad of colors, fabrics, and styles, greeting one another with waves, bows, prayer gestures, and smiles, and speaking various languages. Despite our many differences, we are here for one reason: a commitment to others. A commitment to “optimizing healthcare quality.” A commitment, on a global level, to work much better together.”

From June 22-24, I was honored to have the opportunity to attend the Optimizing Healthcare Quality Conference—an international nursing conference hosted by Chiang Mai University Faculty of Nursing, as well as 14 partners (one of them being UNC-CH SON) alongside four of our faculty: Interim Dean, Donna Havens, Director of EISLE, Carol Durham, Dr. Meg Zomorodi, and Dr. Gwen Sherwood.

As one of few undergraduate students in the room, I initially felt out of place. At one of the breaks, I remember a doctoral student approaching me, assuming I was a PhD student, and inquiring about my PhD dissertation. Before attending this conference I had yet to consider getting a PhD—I was focused on getting my BSN and my first nursing job, then I’d figure things out from there! But now, my thoughts have shifted.

Over the course of the 2.5 days, I attended many sessions on topics ranging from building nursing research capacity to solve local health problems, to looking at the impacts of team based care on health outcomes, to hearing from 11 different nurses’ evidence-based approaches to improving maternal and child health outcomes. Realizing how passionate I was about all of these topics, my feeling-out-of-place faded quickly. I am excited to be headed into a community of smart, driven, innovative, and caring leaders who are extremely committed to changing what isn’t currently working in our healthcare system world-wide. Though still excited to start my career as an RN, I’m also excited about the potential opportunities to research, change, and question nursing practices in the future.

Ultimately, what I’d like to stress is this: the knowledge and perspective I gained at this conference so early on in my education is immeasurable. Today, I no longer understand the term critical thinking as merely a vocabulary word with a definition. Instead, I understand it as a term that represents why and how the nursing profession can be so powerful, and can drive so many of the changes we need to see in our health care systems.

I have since returned to my global health practicum in Bangkok feeling energized, engaged, and empowered. I have found myself thinking critically, yet thoughtfully about all I have been exposed to.

My advice to UNCSON? Let’s find a way to send more students to represent UNC and learn from the most distinguished nurses world-wide at the next Optimizing Healthcare Conference. I am forever grateful to Bill and Mary Lou Booth and the Linda Cronenwett Global Health Award for allowing me to participate in this conference!