Validate your membership/access to the iHV Champion hub here to receive your password.
Not a member? Join here.

Making the Difference

31st October 2013

The conference took place over the English bank holiday weekend 25th – 27th August 2013, at the National University of Ireland in the beautiful old city of Galway in Southern Ireland. It was hosted by the Institute of Community Health Nursing (ICHN) in Ireland and supported by a number of high- profile international speakers and experts in the area of public health nursing. Delegates attended from 24 countries.

Public Health Nursing is critical in the creation of organisations and systems which promote equity and health central to the World Health Organisation (WHO) goals for improved primary care services. Throughout the conference there were opportunities to share with international colleagues a variety of papers under the core themes of policy, education, population health and practice of Public Health Nursing and Primary Care.

These are exciting times for public health nurses, who are unique in their contribution to health and well-being of populations. The title of the conference ‘Making the Difference’ is exactly what we do. Public Health Nurses around the globe enrich the health of individuals, families, communities and populations. They are committed to evidence-based practice and the positive influence of national and international public health policy. The conference was a meeting of minds for the exchange of knowledge and a platform for international discourse and debate.

We arrived on a sunny Sunday afternoon for the welcome reception address in the lovely Aras na Mac Leinn building, our venue for the three days. This was chaired by the Irish Senator Fidelma Healy Eames and set the high expectations for the content of the conference. Anne McDonald (ICHN Professional Forum) spoke about the launch of the ‘Irish Wheel’ (2013) adapted from the ‘American Intervention Wheel’ which identified public health actions/interventions undertaken by public health nurses. This has been validated by the ICHN and is being adopted nationally in Ireland. We were also introduced to ‘’The Gathering Quilt’’ designed and crafted by Maureen McDonald. This was commissioned by the ICHN to provide an everlasting symbol for a united international community of public health nursing.


The conference reconvened on the Monday morning commencing with a thought-provoking drama about a Public Health Nurse Suffragist, Miss Lavinia Dock, a nurse leader and historian. She was brilliantly played by Dr Beth Furlong from Creighton University, Omaha. Then followed a number of prominent speakers which included Ms Annette Mwansa Nkowane from the WHO on the global perspective of public health nursing; Mr Alex White the Minister of State for Primary Health care in Ireland and Dr Sinead Hanafin from Trinity College Dublin, who spoke on Making the Difference through better use of research. Later in the afternoon, we heard about the implications of MECSH on the contribution of public health nursing from Dr Lynn Kemp, from New South Wales in Australia and Dr Anna Chiesa (University of Sao Paolo) delivered on the Family Health Strategy in Brazil. All were very relevant presentations to be learned from.

The day was brought to an end with the conferring of honorary fellowships of the Institute of Community Health Nursing Ireland by the president Anne Corridan. These went to Dame Sarah Cowley (Kings College London), Maura Connolly (ICHN External Adviser) and Sinead Hanafin (Trinity College, Dublin).

We had a memorable evening at the conference dinner, which included a three course meal, wine and traditional Irish entertainment, which included a harpist, poet and a musician/singer.

The after dinner speech was given by Tony O’Brien from Ireland’s Health Service Executive. The surroundings at the Ardour Hotel in the city of Galway were beautiful the room was candle lit and the cuisine excellent. It was a time to relax and make new friends from across many continents. This is commonly known in Ireland as ‘enjoying the craic’.

The following day was as equally enjoyable and interesting with Dr Pauline Pearson (Northumbria University) initially telling us about building community capacity within local population, which many of our newly qualified health visitors have been taking forward in England. Dr Issel from the University of Illinois spoke about managing and advancing public health nursing and suggested we should be looking to setting standards and aligning to Benner (1984). It was at this point I acknowledged that as health visitors in the UK we were actually in advance of many in delivering a public health service.  We finished the conference with the history of Irish Public Health Nursing 1890-1974. It was extraordinary to consider how far public health nursing had come.

There were a vast number of concurrent presentations throughout the conference that were all very relevant and interesting. I wished I could have attended so many more than I was able to. Dame Sarah Cowley spoke on ‘Why health visiting? Policy Research in England’. In this Sarah shared the development of the ‘Health Visitor Implementation Plan 2011-15: a Call to Action’, that has strengthened and rejuvenated our service. I attended the session delivered by Cheryl Adams (Director of the Institute of Health Visiting, UK) on setting up an International Public Health Alliance. The aim would be to establish one Global Public Health Nursing Professional Alliance with a focus on strengthening practice, policy, research and education. This is so needed to bring the profession together globally for sharing of good practice and to stimulate further research and innovation in the field of public health nursing.

There were also a large number of poster presentations demonstrating the vast amount of research that is taking place across the world to improve the health and wellbeing of our populations. These covered every spectrum of our responsibilities and experiences in the field of public health nursing. My own presentation was a celebration of the students’ case studies this year, sharing the innovations that they may take forward as their Building Community Capacity Projects as newly qualified health visitors and school nurses. There was so much to learn and so much to share that it just confirmed to me the need for a global alliance to do just that.

On a personal note, I met and made friends with several nurses from America, Nigeria and Japan, with whom I spent some time over the three days. We were able to share our individual practice roles, knowledge and personal views on our chosen field of public health nursing and discuss the differences in our experiences. This was so valuable to me in understanding how public health was delivered in other countries and the difficulties also incurred in trying to deliver this service.

The ICHN should be congratulated on organising such an interesting and successful conference. The next Public Health Nurse Conference will take place in three years time; the venue and date have yet to be confirmed. My hopes for the future are, that this conference has instilled the motivation in many that attended, to share and disseminate much of the good practice we heard about in these valuable three days, that we have an International Public Health Alliance set up in the not too distant future and that I will be there in 2016 to be part of the next International Public Health Conference. Is that too much to ask?

The Irish Blessing

May the road rise to meet you;

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rain fall softly on your skin.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Christine Gordon, Pathway Lead Health Visiting, University Campus Suffolk



Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park: Addison

Institute of Community Health Nursing (2013). 3rd International Public Health Nursing Conference – Making the Difference. Available at:

Population Health Interest Group (2013). Public Health Nursing in Ireland: Demonstrating Interventions from Practice.Institute of Community Health Nursing, Dublin.


Join the conversation