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  • Nicole Sunderland

A Lot Going On At The Moment

Updated: Jun 6

Those were the words that I commented back after a vendor, who was attempting to scan my badge, said to me "there's a lot going on here" with all of my ribbons. He wasn't wrong. Each NTI, I proudly display ribbons which signify my journey through being involved with volunteering for the American Critical Care Nurses Association. This year, my badge reached 9 different ribbons.

(Note, I chose the Chapter President ribbon as they did not offer the Past Chapter President ribbon)

NTI, or The National Teaching Institute, is the annual conference hosted by AACN and invites critical care nurses from around the world to attend. This year's attendance was approximately 6,000 people and was held in the mile high city of Denver, Colorado. The conference offers a vast array of education, evidence-based practice, research, and innovation, all focused on the practice of critical care nursing. It invites people from all backgrounds, including non-critical care nurses and professionals, to come connect, network, and create meaningful relationships. This year, for me, was just as exceptional.

The journey to Denver began with registration. This is one part that I love about this conference, as the conference has an all encompassing website, member's of AACN receive a discounted rate as well as the option for discounted flights and hotel stays. NTI has also created their own housing authority to help handle hotel stays for the incoming thousands of participants with ease (this being an ease from my perspective. There is a tremendous amount of work that occurs behind the scenes). As a frequent participant of many conferences around the country, NTI always stands out as not only the most accessible conference, but also the highest value of payment to total experience output.

The conference starts out at $760 for the early bird registration and progresses to $860 after. This is in comparison to other conferences I've attended including ANCC Magnet (3 day conference, starting at $929 and escalating to $1250), the NPIAP (2 day, $475 progressing to $525), PSU Translating Research to Innovations in Practice (1 evening and 1 day, $230) and Johns Hopkins Early Mobility conference (virtual only, $400). If you're asking your self, 'why are nursing conferences so expensive, I really have no idea of the specifics, but I can say that there is a wild phenomenon between price, value and what people are willing to pay for things. It may be considered a type of endowment affect and just the perceived value of paying for something if far better than receiving it for free.

My recommendation is to always arrive at a conference the day prior, when traveling. It's important to check in early, receive any conference items such as your name badge and map, understand the layout of the conference center and city, as well as organize yourself for the next day. Thankfully, NTI makes badge pickup is a breeze. A coupon that is attached to your name badge allows the staff to verify your attendance and provide you with a very nice, large canvas conference bag. The bag is exceptionally well made, has several pockets, sturdy, and can fit my laptop and large, 32 ounce water bottle with ease.

I personally love staying at a hotel with a gym as I really enjoy working out to not only improve my physical fitness, but to also clear my head, reset for the day, or just work on some ideas. This particular hotel, the Hyatt Regency Denver, was amazing.

What set's NTI a part from other conferences, is the super sessions. They are without a doubt, by favorite. These sessions invite every attendee to a large space that welcomes you to electric music and lights, played by a DJ, from a stage. The stage is situated in such a way that includes a large screen with imagery that keeps you guessing what is to come. Super sessions encompass everything from the off-going President's address which built on the year's prior theme "Rising Together", to two keynote speakers motivational talks, fun competitions between attendees, the oncoming President's address and the revealing of the new theme for the year. I think the best way to describe a super session is, half dance party, half inspiration, cup filled all the way up.

This year's keynote speakers included Ryan Leak, who spoke on the subject of dealing with complicated people, and Neil Pasricha, who spoke on the subject of happiness. Prior to seeing their names on the agenda for the keynote talks, I had never heard of either of these two before. Yet, what NTI does best, is find exceptional keynote speakers that somehow hit the nail on the head with themes that nurses need to hear. The topics resonated with each nurse in the large space with palpable feelings expressed in many ways of head nods, clapping, shouting and, at some points, crying good tears.

Me? I left feeling so hype that they captured it all on video:

The impact that super session has on each attendee is strong enough to give you goosebumps and fierce enough to leave you with a flame to change everything. This year, the new theme was welcomed in by the new President as 'Courage to Soar.' Perfectly addressed by President-elect Jennifer Adamski's personal journey, she reminded us of all the change we've created and what it would look like without the AACN, without nurses, without us attending NTI and without her. This talk reminded all of us, that without courage, we will not advance the practice of critical care nursing, challenge the status quo, tear down the walls that have been held up too long, and forge forward a new path for change.

"It takes courage for AACN to be AACN. It takes courage to be a nurse. It takes courage to be ourselves. Because a day – even an hour – without AACN, without nurses, and without each of us, changes healthcare for the worse. Together, we have the Courage to Soar." (J. Adamski, 2024).

And look at this beautiful artwork:

And then, there is the Expo. This, massive, 300 vendor expo showcases the top healthcare vendors. It is billed as 'the largest, most comprehensive trade show for acute, progressive and critical care nurses, advanced practice nurses, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners and nurse managers as well as transport and emergency department nurses who treat acutely and critically ill patient' ( This expo can introduce you to fellow critical care nurses who are seeking solutions for problems, a new job through anyone of the many healthcare systems and industry companies present, or, a new degree at anyone of the many school's of nursing present. I think one of the top offerings that an attendee can soak up, are the CEU's offered by attending a learning session at one of the many educational offerings by the vendors. Take a look:

NTI is structured in such a way, that you are able to obtain CEU's by just about anything. The many ways include, reading an NTI newspaper with a CEU article, attending poster sessions, attending a vendor session, attending a super session, or, attending an ongoing session through one of the many talented speakers educating on amazing topics. There are over 200 sessions and 35 CEU's to obtain at this conference.

This year's conference was also a personal celebration in many ways.

I lead a team of nurses to complete our AACN Beacon Award and we were celebrated among the Gold awardees. This reflects a unit and work environment that meet the high standards of the AACN. As both an initial reviewer and senior reviewer for several years, it was a moment in time that not only made me pause, but rushed in an immense sense of pride not only as a critical care nurse, but as someone who helped lead a team to shine a light on many years of dedicated critical care nurses who have come through the unit I work on.

I reflected on my time volunteering for and being chosen for the CCRN Practice Analysis Task Force. An incredible opportunity to describe the job activities of the acute/critical care nurse in sufficient enough detail that aides in the development of a professional, job related certification exam. I also took some time to reflect on my prior volunteer experience with the AACN which includes: Serving on a local chapter as Social Media Coordinator/Website Master, President-Elect and President. Nationally as an Initial and Senior Beacon Reviewer and CCRN Practice Analysis Task Force Member.

I left NTI with a feeling that refilled my excitement of being a critical care nurse, the drive to create change by tearing down structures of harm through creating purposeful and meaningful outcomes, and the Courage to Soar by creating collaborative relationships that forge the next year of critical care nursing.

Cheers to this next year!

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