Dr. Doris Grinspun

A tsunami of change: RNAO at ICN

The positive energy and enthusiasm at this year’s five-day International Council of Nurses (ICN) Congress – hosted in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) in early July – was palpable. More people gathered and chatted in the venue hallways than I’ve seen ever before. Participants were not in a rush to take off and explore the intriguing host city of Montreal, as I’ve witnessed in other international cities at previous congresses. Coming together in person was clearly a shared priority. 

Throughout the congress, RNAO’s conference booth was bursting at the seams. It seemed like the entire international community of nurses wanted to be at our booth. It was so energizing to engage with colleagues who knew about RNAO’s work and others encountering us for the first time. When noticing that some of our RNAO X (formerly Twitter) influencers had even made the “Top 10,” I felt very proud.  

RNAO’s strong presence at the booth, and our exceptional variety of poster and concurrent presentations, were equally matched by presentations we attended from around the world. There was lots of food for thought for all who attended the congress. 

The intensity and passion we witnessed in nurses at ICN didn’t surprise me. I realized, though, that we all had underestimated the effect of the pandemic – not only on the need to reconnect, but also on the growth and international impact of our work over the past four years. As one RNAO colleague put it: “I knew our impact was big, but not this big.” 

I’m starting to think our social action movement wave is becoming a tsunami.

The theme for this year’s congress – Nurses together: a force for global health – was a perfect fit for the special session RNAO hosted to bring together Best Practice Spotlight Organizations® (BPSO®) and to continue sharing the program with international colleagues. More than 90 influential nurses joined us on July 6 to learn about the international BPSO experience, featuring a panel of nurse leaders from Australia, Chile, China, Spain and Ontario. Session participants who are already involved in the BPSO program also engaged in an afternoon planning session on how to advance the BPSO social action movement to the next level. 

Our groundbreaking research and our programs were on full display in posters or presented in concurrent sessions throughout the event. And the performance of our RNAO contingent – from Ontario and from around the world – was smashing.

With any major event, of course, there are always opportunities for improvement. A missed opportunity at this year’s event was representation of Indigenous nurses at the opening ceremonies. I would have loved to have the Canadian Indigenous Nurses Association (CINA) bring remarks at the opening ceremonies. With Canada hosting the world’s nurses at this event, giving Indigenous nurses a voice and platform – in addition to the land acknowledgement and compelling performances by Indigenous artists – was needed to advance reconciliation. And putting Indigenous nurses first would have sent a strong message from ICN, given the continued marginalization and lack of access to health care that Indigenous communities continue to experience worldwide. 

At RNAO, we are very conscious that when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion, we must walk the talk. So, through our Indigenous health program – including work co-developing Indigenous-specific best practice guidelines and other resources with community partners and actively supporting Indigenous-focused BPSOs – we strive to act with congruence. In this spirit, RNAO led a concurrent session anchored in the two-eyed seeing approach* to Indigenous health. And RNAO also participated in a robust concurrent session addressing anti-Black racism in nursing. The session was built on research conducted by the Black Nurses Task Force and also on the progress made to date on RNAO’s forthcoming Ending Systemic Racism against Black nurses best practice guideline (BPG).

These were only two of many examples of RNAO’s work shared at the ICN Congress. Our groundbreaking research and our programs were on full display in posters or presented in concurrent sessions throughout the event. And the performance of our RNAO contingent – from Ontario and from around the world – was smashing. 

Our President Dr. Claudette Holloway and I applaud every colleague who presented at ICN and who helped with the logistics and planning for this memorable global feast in Montreal. This includes a huge group effort at RNAO home office, starting months in advance. It takes a village to plan a strong presence at an international conference. RNAO members, BPSOs from Canada and abroad, and home office staff surpassed all expectations.  

The countless hours of work paid off in a fantastic showing. RNAO added to the buzz and excitement of the congress with a collection of great leaders who shared their impactful work and by hosting our special session – an event we plan to coincide with each bi-annual congress so that we support ICN.  

With this inspiring event behind us, it’s now time to start on the homework we brought back. We are already following up with health organizations around the world that want to become BPSOs. 

All signs point to the fact that our BPSO movement is a powerful force for change. Stay tuned. Our next issue of RNJ will be dedicated to celebrating the 20th anniversary of our groundbreaking BPSO program.


*The two-eyed seeing approach is to learn to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing and from the other eye with the strengths of Western knowledge and ways of knowing. This means we learn to use both eyes together for the benefit of all.

Spring-Summer 2023
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