CONAA Connects Virtually During the 2020 Pandemic

Submitted by Elise Matthews, RN, PhD
CONAA Outreach Committee Chair, Assistant Professor, University of Regina, Canada

In March 2020, the program committee was making final arrangements for the yearly gathering of the Council on Nursing and Anthropology (CONAA). Members were preparing to travel to Albuquerque for the Society for Applied Anthropology Annual Meeting (SfAA). CONAA was founded in 1969 and has held their annual business meeting and conference sessions at the SfAA annual meeting since 1973. E-mails started to come to the CONAA program chair and committee from members who would not be able to attend and present as they had planned. At first, members were reconsidering attendance on their own. Next, members indicated that their sponsoring organizations (universities and health organizations) would not be reimbursing conference expenses. Finally, universities and other organizations were prohibiting conference travel. By the date the conference was to be held, many CONAA members were required to stay and work at home, and governments had begun restricting citizens’ travel, locally and internationally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 9th, presenters and members received notice from SfAA that the annual meeting was cancelled. On March 9th, the CONAA program committee began an email discussion about the possibility of using videoconferencing to gather members in some way. On March 10th, the CONAA president sent a message to the CONAA presenters announcing a virtual conference to be held on March 18th. On March 13th, having confirmed that most presenters were interested and able to present virtually (only two papers were withdrawn), the program committee was able to invite the entire CONAA membership to attend the meeting and presentations. Unfortunately, the roundtable hosted by CONAA every year, to highlight local issues in the city where the SfAA conference is held, was not able to go forward. Notably, these rapid timelines were possible because the conference sessions had already been organized by CONAA in collaboration with SfAA.

On March 18th, there were 19 people in attendance at the annual meeting of CONAA, 52 years after the group was founded. The meeting lasted 6 hours. The outreach chair hosted a Zoom meeting, with IT support available if needed. A practice was held one day in advance with the CONAA program committee, none of whom had used this videoconferencing program before, to increase their comfort in using the technology and to arrange some final details for the meeting. This time also allowed those members to share with each other the impact the pandemic was having in their local communities, organizations and families. The nineteen attendees joined virtually from several US states, as well as Canada, Jordan, and Brazil. CONAA members and presenters were able to attend from home in isolation, using a variety of devices (e.g., computers, telephones), making the gathering accessible to many members. There had been discussion by some members of joining the virtual conference in small co-located groups, but by March 18th, 2020, most members were under local gathering restrictions. 

Fourteen papers were presented across two themes: 1) Care and Diversity in Complex Societies, and 2) Cultural Citizenship, Post-migration, and Trauma. Presentations focused on diverse groups, including Vietnamese Americans, Native Americans, South Asian Americans, Syrian refugees in Canada, and culturally diverse nurses in United Arab Emirates. Research projects with other marginalized and vulnerable groups included incarcerated, unauthorized, and immigrant persons. Presentation topics covered a range of concerns, including: health care systems and healthcare workers; global service learning; trauma; family separation; medication errors; health beliefs about diabetes; experiences of childbirth; experiences of inflammatory bowel disease; mobile health usage; law enforcement assisted diversion; translation in multilingual research teams; and impacts of hemp production on health and economic disparities.

Some of the presentations were modified to incorporate recent events regarding the novel coronavirus (e.g., impact in Italy and the US). Discussion during the virtual conference often included concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on marginalized people and communities. This is keeping with the research and practice interests of the members of CONAA, an organization for those interested in both nursing and anthropology. CONAA members include nurse-anthropologists; practitioners and scholars of trans-cultural or cross-cultural nursing; anthropologists who teach in schools of nursing or other clinical fields; medical anthropologists, cultural psychologists, health social scientists; and nurses and other health care professionals. Common interests of CONAA members are improved health care for vulnerable populations and encouraging cultural and social justice content in nursing education. CONAA members are often interested in the physical and mental health of culturally diverse and vulnerable persons and communities. For more information, see

Discussion at the March 2020 virtual gathering considered the pros and cons of holding virtual meetings in the future. Some new members commented afterwards to the outreach chair on the camaraderie they could feel during the virtual conference discussions and business meeting. Attendees affirmed the benefits of face-to-face gatherings, noting that collegial relationships developed over the years likely contributed to the rapid re-organization of the virtual conference and the sense of community felt even by distance. It was noted that the CONAA membership hails from several countries, and varied practice and research settings. Some years, members living inside and outside of the U.S. have been unable to attend in-person, due to the prohibitive costs of travelling every year, personal circumstances, and political events in their home country. It was noted that videoconferencing could allow members to connect when in-person attendance is not possible. Overall, those in attendance affirmed the merit of the virtual conference as an alternative to forgoing an annual CONAA gathering, and the remarkable ease of use and feeling of connection through videoconferencing. CONAA members who attended the virtual conference agreed that in-person gatherings are preferable when possible, but that connecting from a distance was an acceptable and effective alternative when needed. 


Sylvia Jalil-Gutierrez, CONAA Program Committee Chair 

Susan Norris, CONAA President 

Karen Breda, CONAA Past President 

Brenda Brown, CONAA Session Chair 

Christie Emerson, CONAA Session Chair

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