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After Thoughts speaker Herdman hits on all cylinders with holism and healthcare talk

UW-Green Bay’s After Thoughts is meant for learning, enrichment and fun. Tuesday evening’s speaker Associate Professor of Nursing Heather Herdman hit on all cylinders.

In front of a full house in the Grand Foyer of the Weidner Center, Herdman managed to educate and inspire while giving the audience a new understanding of the history of holism in healthcare, and why our region and our country have a long way to go.

“Holism, health and healing are inextricably linked,” she said. That doesn’t mean that one patient can rely on just one method of treatment or prevention. “After all, when there is a tragic accident, we really do want the trauma surgeon.”

“I am a nurse, and I cannot do a presentation without mentioning Florence Nightingale,” joked Herdman. “Nightingale was the first person who focused on unity and wellness and the interrelationships of human beings to events and environment. She also was the first to use statistics to prove her theories and show the outcomes — that people really do get better care with fresh air, light and quiet, for example.” Another first for Nightingale was her recognition of post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers and the need to treat more than the physical injury.

Herdman encouraged the need to pursue integrative healthcare — essentially treating the mind, body and spirit at the same time — treating patients as more than the sum of their illnesses. Switching the model from a reductionist model where treatment is given for a symptom to a more holistic model, where prevention and treating the whole person — his or her environment, genetic history, events, situations, life stages — could wipe out some of the top most treatable and debilitating illnesses (diabetes, obesity, heart failure, asthma, for example) to the savings of billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

“Our system doesn’t pay for prevention. It needs to start focusing on paying for prevention and health promotion,” Herdman says. “And evidence-based healthcare should be the only acceptable standard.” As an example, she said that studies showed technology doesn’t always determine consistently better results. A robotics surgery may be no more effective than a surgery performed through traditional methods, but the costs of the new technology is pressuring the healthcare system to the point of financial disaster. “We can’t continue to do what we have been doing.”

Herdman said some hospitals and research centers (Mayo and the University of Minnesota, for instance) are beginning to look at holistic opportunities because solubility of the nation’s healthcare system is going to demand it. Other countries — England and Germany, for instance — have years of documented success with holistic healing.

“We need to pay for prevention, and the healthcare providers that can guide it,” said Herdman. “We need to move to evidence-based healthcare being the only acceptable standard, and we need large demonstration projects – possibly funded by philanthropists or healthcare providers that see this as the sustainable direction.”

“Integrative healthcare puts the patient at the center, focuses on prevention and is preventive, predictive and personalized,” she said.

Herdman has held leadership positions with national and international nursing organizations. She is widely recognized for her expertise in holistic care and has studied clinical aromatherapy, massage and herbal therapies.

Now in its fifth full season, After Thoughts seeks to connect members of the community with UW-Green Bay. The gatherings showcase talented women among University faculty, staff and alumni, and convene men and women after their workday for learning, enrichment and fun.

The next After Thoughts presentation will be by Professors Alison Gates (fiber arts) and Heidi Sherman (history) regarding their collaborative Flax Project — a multi-year interdisciplinary study that recreates the ancient processing of flax to linen, from seed to cloth to paper. Find out more about their upcoming presentation on the After Thoughts website.

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