PHPCI 2019: Something different, something wonderful

Natalie Anderson took her research to a new forum – seeking-out a different audience and approach to science communication – and encourages you to do the same.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several conferences over my career. As an acute-care nurse researching paramedics, many of these have been nursing or paramedicine-specific, others very medical. Those I’ve enjoyed most have been truly international and interprofessional. The 6th Public Health Palliative Care International Conference (#PHPCI2019) was both of these things. In undertaking my PhD I have been researching paramedic experiences with resuscitation decision-making and patient death. I intentionally chose the PHPCI2019 forum, knowing the audience would contrast with previously-attended medical-technical conferences. Although the scientific programme featured numerous randomised controlled trials and experimental studies, there were also sessions to inspire, lead, provoke, foster collaboration, disrupt, celebrate creative practice and explore challenging case studies.

Portrait of a Wagana dancer by Adnate

This conference stood apart from any other I have attended. What I was unprepared for was how wonderfully different it was. Most of the organisers were female – not a single ‘manel’ here – and many keynotes, plenaries and symposia were led by women. The Blue Mountains setting was stunning, with ever-changing views down the Megalong Valley. There was a frequent acknowledgement of Darug and Gundungurra Elders past, present and emerging. The spoken word, singing voices and even dancing of indigenous women were front-and-centre, throughout. From the Brink: A Fringe Festival About Ageing, Dying, Grieving and Our Community linked our conference with the incredible creativity of the Blue Mountains community. It was a revelation to me, to include art, music, singing, dance and poetry alongside the scientific programme. These installations and performances, and the opportunity to sing with local community members fostered creative thinking and helped to provide a balance to the sobering conference themes.

Others might find it hard to imagine a conference about death and dying could be so uplifting. Certainly, people spoke all day about death, aging and bereavement and tears flowed freely, at times. But it was also a gathering of great passion, kindness and joy. Here were people who had experienced love and loss – often both personally and professionally – and were eager to embrace, share and celebrate the care of aging, dying and grieving community members. Happiness was everywhere. A community palliative care nurse and comedian had us roaring with laughter, at the gala dinner. She had probably found the ultimate forum for her wonderfully dark humour.

It was an absolute privilege to be a presenter and delegate at this inspiring conference. Being there with other members of the Te Arai Palliative Care & End of Life Research group gave me a sense of belonging and pride in the amazing work being done in Aotearoa. It was uplifting to join in waiata with these great researchers and colleagues (who also happen to be fantastic singers). I learnt a great deal and met many wonderful change-makers who are doing vital work in their communities from Canada to Belgium to Taiwan. I received helpful and encouraging critical feedback on my PhD research. In summary, I highly recommend attending a conference that’s a little – or a lot – different from your ‘usual’. It is a great way to learn more about yourself, inspire creative thinking and understand the way others approach challenges and present solutions.

All photos featured in this blog were taken in the Blue Mountains by Natalie Anderson

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