Susan Luck shares her experience and takeaways from the 2010 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York.

By Susan Luck RN, BS, MS, HNC, CCN 

Is there a new track that you would like to see included in next year’s symposium?

The recent Integrative Healthcare Symposium gathering of influential and inspiring speakers and healthcare practitioners, surpassed the expectations of those who were able to weather the snow and attend this remarkable three day event in New York.

When I describe the Symposium to colleagues, I preface the outstanding speakers and presentations with the important factoid that this conference is not organized by a specific professional organization or discipline and that the only agenda is to be all inclusive, practitioners from all disciplines are welcome  Since all of us attend many professional conferences, this symposium stands out and has the distinct advantage of encouraging open dialogue across diverse professions, learning from one another and creating models for collaboration that can transform our current medical centric model.

While offering plenary panels and multiple workshops by thought leaders in the emerging fields of integrative health including: women’s and children’s health, environmental health, and cutting edge research in the fields of nutrition and mind/body health,  the feeling remains one of an intimate and informal gathering, even with 1,534 total registrants this year!

The conference planners also see the bigger picture and included leaders in health care policy, offering a platform to discuss the issues and challenges in health care reform including the need for integrative providers to press for inclusion in shaping a new paradigm. By the end of the symposium, many attendees expressed an intention to be part of the change needed to impact the direction of health care through advocacy and action.
A recent reminder of our ability to influence legislation was apparent when a nutrient supplement bill to prohibit the sale of over the counter vitamins to consumers went through the legislative process.

There was an amazing amount of activity surrounding the bill entitled “The Dietary Supplement Safety Act (S. 3002)”, co-sponsored by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Bryan L. Dorgan (D-ND).  After meeting with Senator Hatch, and receiving reportedly hundreds of thousands of letters, emails and telephone calls, the bill died before Congress could act on it. The organized campaign by naturopaths, nutritionists, diverse practitioners and informed consumers provides a powerful example of raising our voice to impact health policy.

As moderator of the Environmental Health Panel, I was struck by how each of the panelists, pioneers and leaders in the field of environmental health, have had a strong voice in moving an environmental health agenda forward through education in both the professional and public sector, through their books, advocacy efforts, and relentless perseverance over the years even when met with resistance from peers, institutions and professional organizations.

Although it is still an uphill battle, these education and advocacy outreach efforts are impacting legislation as witnessed currently as State representatives propose bills banning chemicals including bisphenol A, questioning cell phone safety, and reassessing what is “clean water”. As the panelists shared their passion and wealth of knowledge on the current research and urgent issues,  conference attendees tweeted about it in cybersphere.

Throughout the conference, a recurring functional medicine theme was woven into presentations on how to assess and guide our clients and patients in both prevention and treatment strategies. The takeaway messages and new understandings will inevitably transform how we practice.

Another timely topic that the symposium brought to the forefront is the rapidly growing industry of health coaching. An expert panel came together to explore how health coaching can impact the quality of patient care and professional practice.

I moderated a panel that included: holistic nurses, physicians, a director of a professional coaching program at the University of Minnesota, the director of the Annie Appleseed Project, a patient cancer advocacy organization, and the director of the Mind/Body Institute. We engaged in conversation, exploring this emerging “new” role in health care from an integrative health perspective. There was inquiry and interest from the audience into professional regulation, training, and credentialing of health coaches. By the end of this panel, it became clear that more time was needed and more questions were asked than answered. There are already discussions to expand this focus next year as this field will only continue to grow.

After three days of being totally immersed in learning, the snow finally stopped and it was time to give hugs to colleagues and new friends and head home, anticipating implementing new information and strategies into practice on Monday morning.