A Conference to Support You as We Enter a New Epoch
by Michael Villaire, MSLM
On May 10-12, 2022, we’ll hold our 21st annual IHA Health Literacy Conference. As you can see, we’ve been doing this for a long time! Over the years, we’ve provided information and training to thousands of health literacy professionals. While we’ve always tried to be topical in our educational offerings, since the pandemic, this has been an even more determined focus. More on that shortly.
In the more than 20 years that I’ve been at IHA, much has changed, for me personally (once-brown hair is now solidly gray, thank you very much) and in the world of health literacy. For these pandemic-era conferences, we’ve focused our content on issues of the day that truly matter, such as racial inequities and disparities, COVID-19, misinformation/disinformation, social injustices, disparities in access to care/digital divide/digital literacy barriers, social unrest/community polarization — and how these affect all of us working in health literacy, healthcare, and social services, as well as those whom we serve.
Just now, mental health and well-being has taken center stage as a significant issue. (It has always been here, of course, but only spoken of in hushed tones, if at all.) So too has resilience. Psychological resilience is defined as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress … [A]s much as resilience involves ‘bouncing back’ from these difficult experiences, it can also involve profound personal growth.” (APA 2020)
Possessing resilience is a strength and a blessing, but not all of us possess it … or we do not possess it in a sufficient quantity to “adapt well” in the face of the challenges now surrounding us. We’re all taking a beating out there. And those whom we serve are taking one, too. For us to be most effective, we must bring our best selves to the work we do. That includes the need to acknowledge any fragility and damage we carry, and provide the same warmth, nurturing, and care for ourselves as we do for others. Thankfully, the stigma has begun to melt away around admitting that we are not “fine,” and productive conversations and actions involving mental health are starting to happen.
Most of us have made it through this pandemic. We have lost family, friends, and colleagues, and have been irrevocably changed by the events of the past 2-plus years. The landscape is different now, and change is coming more rapidly. Keeping up with it, processing and understanding it, can also be a significant stressor.
I keep hearing the phrase “It’s the new normal.” I personally dislike this phrase, as it implies a return to something that we once held near and dear, that we are returning to our comfort in some familiarity that has somehow been formed and molded, like the sculptor’s clay, into a new thing that resembles the old, but is different. I believe something new lies ahead. I believe we are in a new era, a new epoch, one that requires us to see the world critically, with eyes wide open, with courage and curiosity, and with a determination to be as whole and healthy as we can. This is the only way we can truly be of service.
We’ll continue to explore what this new epoch and its landscape look like at the conference.
For now, let’s take a look at a few things that have changed with our IHA conference since the onset of the pandemic 2 years ago:
- The conference has gone virtual. Clearly, gathering hundreds of people in a ballroom has not been a viable option. Professionals seeking continuing education credits have become more comfortable with online-based learning. We read your critiques, comments, and suggestions in your attendee evaluations, and we have implemented improvements to make your experience even better.
- The conference is free. Especially at the onset of the pandemic, we quickly realized there were many health literacy professionals struggling in their work situations and scrambling to find applicable continuing education credits, a necessity for retaining one’s licensure. We realized that the cost for producing a virtual event was not as high as the cost for putting on an in-person event. No hotel rooms for speakers and staff, no airfare for speakers, no food and beverage costs … and if you’ve ever attended an IHA conference, you know that we try to provide a first-class experience that values the attendee. There are those who say that if something is free, people don’t value it. In many cases, that’s probably true. But in this case, we believe we’re providing a service to the health literacy community, and as a nonprofit organization, we see this as one way we can fulfill our mission. So, for the time being, there is no registration fee for attending the conference. However …
- We respectfully ask you to make a voluntary donation to any of several listed charitable organizations. Each year, we choose a half dozen charities that reflect the theme, vision, and values found in the topics we cover in the conference agenda. We ask (but do not require) for a minimum $25 donation to one or more of these organizations. (My sincere and heartfelt thanks to those of you who graciously made very generous contributions to these charities the past 2 years.) Our rationale here is, rather than asking you to pay $300-$350 (our normal tuition) to attend, just pay a fraction of that to support several great causes. A tax deduction for you, and a boost for these folks doing good in the world. What’s not to like?
We believe the agenda for this year’s conference will resonate with you. This agenda was very capably created by our own Diana Peña Gonzalez, MPH, CHES, IHA’s Health Literacy Education Director. When we began to sketch out the conference themes and topics last year, we decided it was imperative to address the fragile state of mental wellness many of us are experiencing.
Each of the 3 conference days covers a broad theme. Day 1 opens with a look at communication, including misinformation/disinformation. A journalist will provide his perspective on effective communication channels and strategies to help speak above the noise to continue to support our communities with accurate and trusted information. Day 2 addresses issues related to mental health and well-being — our own and of those we serve. Day 3 takes a look at innovation and opportunities to increase access to health and to health information.
I hope this conference provides you with a boost, a virtual hug, and some tools and ideas to enter this new epoch with confidence. Enjoy.
American Psychological Association. (2020, February 1). Building your resilience. http://www.apa.org/topics/resilience
About the Author
Michael Villaire is President/CEO of the Institute for Healthcare Advancement (IHA). He has been directing IHA’s health literacy initiatives since 2000.