In early 2020, AdventHealth Global Missions, the AdventHealth health system’s liaison program for its international footprint facilities, grappled with a new reality: the program’s seventh consecutive nursing conference couldn’t meet in person. COVID-19 had already changed the topography of 2020, and without an end to the pandemic in sight, events everywhere were at a standstill.
Normally, the annual nursing conference is held in the second week of September. Nurses from seven of the AdventHealth Global Missions footprints — Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Peru, and the Philippines — gather for three days in Orlando, Florida, United States, to connect with peers, expand clinical knowledge, and focus on nursing excellence.
“Due to the pandemic,” Monty Jacobs, director of AdventHealth Global Missions, said, “we felt like we had three choices.” One choice was canceling the conference, and another was to postpone, but they didn’t want to interfere with scheduling in the coming year. Instead, they adapted to the pandemic environment by producing virtual sessions focused on COVID-19 response.
“We had only two months to plan, which is quick turnaround time,” said Shelby Houmann, the program’s communications specialist and event coordinator, “but our partner footprints were expected to experience [COVID-19] spikes after the U.S., so we wanted to prepare them.” The virtual conference gave them the perfect opportunity to educate safely.
“We also wanted to highlight how our service standards of ‘Keep Me Safe,’ ‘Love Me,’ ‘Make It Easy,’ and ‘Own It’ was key to our COVID-19 response. This formed the basis for the online conference,” Jacobs said. For the first session on July 15, attendees observed how the Keep Me Safe standard is implemented in AdventHealth’s COVID-19 code blue protocols, personal protective equipment (PPE) donning and doffing, and hospital screening processes.
The online setup allows for more participants, but some attendees like Janette Faigao must adapt to a 12-hour time-zone difference. Faigao, dean of the Manila Adventist College College of Nursing in the Philippines, is still able to appreciate the material covered in the conference: “It gives us broader insights on different topics in nursing education. We will use all the techniques we learned.”
The online conference has its perks: the webinars are easily recorded and saved on YouTube, and there’s additional viewership from participants who aren’t always able to join in person, including from countries without footprint facilities, such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Though the virtual conference provides curated pandemic response expertise for overseas nurses, Faigao said she still looks forward to meeting in Florida again. The AdventHealth Global Missions team acknowledges the benefits of an in-person experience but said they are also finding that meeting virtually extends their reach to a broader audience and provides fluidity within the online format. “In the future,” Houmann said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we offer [both].”
This virtual nursing conference has equipped the attendees with topical COVID-19 response information, but the organizers are always looking ahead. “We are hoping this series and the things we’ve learned not only help our partner institutions in the moment but moving forward,” Houmann said.