It’s a calling. Maarit Ahtiala (on the right) and Marja-Liisa Ylitalo-Airo do demanding shift work with a high level of responsibility, but these nurses have also put their expertise and free time into working on behalf of national and international associations in their field. They have been active participants in training sessions, seminars and congresses in Finland and around the world, in addition to bringing experts to Turku.
“It’s very important to network and organise events in order to develop our practical nursing skills and professional identity,” states Ylitalo-Airo.
"Passion, the desire to organise and influence even some aspect of health care," says Ahtiala as she lists the reasons for volunteering.
She works as a nurse and Authorized Wound Care Nurse in Turku University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit for Adults. Ylitalo-Airo is a Nurse Anesthetist in the Operation Unit. She held various positions of trust in the Finnish Association of Nurse Anesthetists (FANA) for more than 14 years and spent 8 years with the International Federation of Nurse Anesthetists (IFNA). During 2014-2018, Ylitalo-Airo was the 2nd Vice-President of the association and helped organise several congresses, including those in Glasgow and Budapest. In Turku, she cooperated with the board of FANA to organise the NOKIAS 2016 Nordic congress for Intensive Care Nurses and Nurse Anesthetists.
“Association work is voluntary and I’ve never been paid for my work. The association has activities on a daily basis, also during my vacations. In practice, I had no free time at all for two years prior to the Turku congress,” says Ylitalo-Airo.
“I'm no longer involved in organisational work, and I’m not in a position that requires me to arrange international congresses. It’s good to bring new perspective to the activities,” she says with a smile.
Ahtiala served on the Board of the Finnish Wound Care Society for six years until February 2019. She’s still a member of the society and participates in the international committee as an invited member.
“In addition, I still represent Finland as a trustee on the European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (EPUAP). This position will continue until at least autumn 2020.”
In May 2018, Ahtiala brought the fourth EPUAP Focus Meeting to Turku. This event deals with the prevention and treatment of pressure ulcers in a particular area.
"In Turku, we focused on the challenges related to pressure ulcers occurring in critically ill children and adults. I organised and chaired the conference.”
International networks expand perspective
Making the arrangements for a large international conference is an intense but rewarding experience. Maarit Ahtiala got the idea of bringing the multidisciplinary Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel’s Focus Meeting to Turku after participating in the 2014 Focus Meeting held in Southampton.
"I've been interested in preventing pressure ulcers for a long time. We’ve achieved good results in Turku University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, so I thought it would be beneficial to organise the event in Turku with a focus on intensive care. The Board of EPUAP accepted my proposal in 2015 and the process began after that,” summarises Ahtiala.
One guiding principle of the conference is to bring professionals from different countries and the latest research information together in one place. Ahtiala believes that events organised in Finland provide valuable opportunities to highlight our expertise and obtain new ideas from leading international experts.
"Finns are too modest. While attending conferences around the world, I’ve noticed that in Finland we have a lot of expertise and organisational capacity in wound care and health care in general. That’s why I wanted to hold the conference in Turku and highlight Finnish competence. I also wanted to bring top international experts to Finland and help people exchange information and create wide-ranging networks.”
Marja-Liisa Ylitalo-Airo agrees with Ahtiala. She also believes that Finland does a lot of good nursing work and science that is worthy of presentation.
“On the other hand, it’s also a good way for people to expand their views. There are so many different ways to do things right and well,” says Ylitalo-Airo.
“The opportunity to talk with international colleagues about different types and levels of nursing communities is something that enriches our ideas. When I was the 2nd Vice-President of IFNA, I had many eye-opening discussions with, for example, African representatives. They provide such high-quality care in relation to the conditions in their countries.”
Congresses provide a good overview of technical developments in the field, but Ylitalo-Airo says that ethical themes and discussions are also important. One of the most interesting topics at the Nordic Congress held in Turku was a presentation on patient privacy.
"International and domestic organisational work has expanded my views enormously. At the same time, I’ve been able to bring knowledge about different practices to my own work community and encourage my colleagues to participate in international congresses.”
Valuable support and seamless cooperation
Marja-Liisa Ylitalo-Airo and Maarit Ahtiala feel that Turku is a great congress city. Good transport connections, accommodation and facility options as well as a versatile historical and cultural offering help bring events to Turku. The high level of international competition for participants and interesting speakers means that there’s no room to compromise on congress marketing.
"Before the Turku Congress, we were very active in attending national congresses in other Nordic countries, because it’s really important to market your own event on location," says Ylitalo-Airo.
She wants to thank Turku Convention Bureau for its valuable support, especially when planning and marketing the event.
“Our cooperation was seamless, and I was surprised how much free support and assistance was available,” admits Ylitalo-Airo.
"I was also surprised by the amount of help provided by Turku Convention Bureau," says Ahtiala.
"For example, I received presentation videos about the city before the event had even been awarded to Turku.”
Both women also praise the support they received for practical arrangements and planning the evening programmes. The anesthesia nurses enjoyed the medieval atmosphere of a dinner at Turku Castle while the pressure ulcer experts experienced the archipelago landscape of Loistokari.
"All in all, the congress arrangements were highly successful and we received good feedback from participants," says Ylitalo-Airo.
"After the conference, it was great to hear our Finnish colleagues say that the event had inspired them to start doing research and take the pressure ulcer prevention protocol back to their own units. This was exactly the impact that I hoped for,” states Ahtiala.
The successful conference arrangements were one of the considerations when an expert panel put together the Journal of Wound Care recognised Ahtiala for her work related to preventing pressure ulcers. Ahtiala has published six international articles on pressure ulcers in the intensive care unit.
"Of course, the award was a great honour for our entire intensive care unit. Recognition is nice, because it gives people the strength and enthusiasm to continue working.”
These respected congress veterans have some tips for future organisers. Ylitalo-Airo and Ahtiala recommend organising a few domestic events before attempting to bring international seminars to Turku.
“It’s really important to have a good congress office. Although I had already organised many Finnish congresses, I still needed advice about financial matters and invitations, “says Ylitalo-Airo.
"Fortunately, I had the EPUAP office, FWCS and the Turku Convention Bureau to help me with the arrangements. There will always be some surprising issues, such as tax issues in different countries, so it’s important to be involved in expert organisations,” Ahtiala says.
“As a general rule, I would say the best advice is to get started on time, make a good plan and be prepared to deal with changes. You also need a good local team that you can trust.”
Nurses are used to dealing with surprising situations in their work. This is also a benefit when organising events.
“Of course, acute nursing is a question of human life, but the process is similar. When a change happens, we have to take care of things and get them moving,” says Ylitalo-Airo in comparison.
It’s easier to maintain a steady heart rate when you have a plan A, B and even C. Having everything well planned allows the organiser to also fully enjoy the atmosphere of the event.
Text: Merja Kallikari
Photo: Mika Okko