This week, students, faculty members and alumni from around the world celebrated the University of Michigan School of Nursing’s 125th year anniversary comprised of a series of events and lectures as part of a three day symposium on global health.

Tuesday, the first day of the event, was primarily dedicated to student and faculty research projects as part of  the nationwide Annual Research Day. Held at the Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel, 50 students and Nursing faculty members displayed posters on their research. Professors both at the University, as well as nationwide, also gave lectures.

At the beginning of the conference, Nursing Dean Kathleen Potempa announced a gift of $1 million recently awarded to the School of Nursing from the Robert and Sara Rothschild family foundation. This donation, made by Sara Rothschild, a Nursing alum, will work to create the Rothschild Global Health Scholars Program at the University and continue to encourage global health initiatives through the School of Nursing. This program, along with others at the School of Nursing, aim to provide resources for students to work worldwide with faculty and other partners.

In a speech at the symposium, Potempa discussed her appreciation for the Rothschild gift and emphasized the importance of the funding inpromoting and furthering global health at the University’s School of Nursing.

“We’re talking a lot about philanthropy today and its tremendous effect on global health,” Potempa told attendees. “The Rothschild Global Health Scholars will help us expand our global programs for students, both undergraduate and graduate, who intend to build their careers to work-study and research in places around the world.”

Among the most significant of the symposium events included a Wednesday talk by keynote speaker Vanessa Kerry, CEO and co-founder of the Seed Global Health Service Partnership and daughter of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

Her speech, titled “Promoting Workforce Development: The Importance of Nurses and Midwives,” focused on Seed, which deploys U.S. health professionals to strengthen health care and provide health service to countries with limited access worldwide.

Kerry also discussed what she described as an inequitable worldwide distribution of health care, geographic shifts in health care workers and faculty shortages in health care leading to limited nurse training — tying them all to the importance of innovation in spreading nursing throughout the globe.

“The idea is simple,” she told attendees. “We’re called Seed Global Health because we’re planting seeds through education, with the idea that if you plant one seed, you are going to get a force of educators that will continue to plant and grow and cultivate a new generation.”

Nursing senior Emily Boltey attended the event and had a poster in Tuesday’s event showcasing her work on breast cancer. She said she especially enjoyed Kerry’s talk about the Seed organization and creating global health partnerships.

“It’s been really nice how they’ve emphasized the role of nursing in global health since nursing is such a large workforce,” Boltey said. “I really like how (Kerry) emphasized the importance of increasing the partnership between physicians and nurses.”

Overall, Kerry stressed the need for global initiatives in health care to improve the educational opportunities for nurses and the availability of care for those in countries with less accessible medical practices, an idea reiterated frequently in the following student and faculty lectures.

Ellen Lavoie Smith, director of the School of Nursing Ph.D. program, said the event was important in promoting nursing as a global initiative, especially with regard to the expansive network of students who have graduated from the School of Nursing and have used their education to encourage worldwide health initiatives.

“It’s really exciting for me to be able to think about how does this all apply to the kinds of things that I’m interested in and my research program," Smith said. "And how can I, in turn, encourage my students that I mentor one-on-one but also the students in the program as a whole to be able to think about global opportunities.” 

Clinical Associate Prof. Stephen Strobbe, winner of the symposium's faculty poster award for his research within the Washtenaw Health Initiative Opioid Project, echoed Smith’s sentiments and said the event increases recognition about health concerns being both local and global. 

“We have a number of shared priorities around the globe, and this is one way for us to be able to share information, interventions, successes and to collaborate and work together to address these global problems and to improve global health,” Strobbe said. “Happily, the University School of Nursing has been on the leading edge of global health responses and this is another example of our collaborative efforts.”

Nursing senior Asa Smith, who had a poster in Tuesday’s event showcasing his research on HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, said he enjoyed presenting his work because it allowed him to gain research experience and will help him narrow down his focus for a Ph.D. program.

“From my perspective, it’s a really great opportunity to work on research projects, put together a poster and really own a part of research and really take that into your own hands,” Smith said. “I’m looking to just see about learning some more information about the global aspects. It’s just good to keep cognizant about global issues from a nursing perspective.”

Nursing alumni and former roommates Lori Prentice and Shirley Dunbar, both of whom graduated from the School of Nursing in 1957, also attended the events Tuesday and Wednesday and said they were particularly interested in the growth of the field. Prentice said she wants to see the field of nursing expand and contribute more to the global experience.

“It makes me smile and broadens my mind about what’s going on in nursing,” Prentice said. “There are always sick people, and there are always needs. If there’s always needs, there’s always nursing of some sort. When I graduated 60 years ago, we didn’t have this global experience.”

The event will continue through Thursday morning and early afternoon, with further discussions and lectures related to global health.

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