Chuckling, compassion and co-morbidity: Annual conference aims to improve nurse-patient relationships

This weekend, the OU Envision Conference plans to educate local nurses on recognizing symptoms of co-morbidity and how to be more compassionate toward patients.

Being able to recognize a patient’s coexisting mental and medical conditions while avoiding the development of their own mental disorder might sound like a job for Super Nurse.

But this weekend the Oakland University School of Nursing plans to equip local nurses with the tools to make these dueling tasks easier.

The fifth annual Envision Conference will welcome several experts on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Royal Park Hotel to hold workshops and discussions about co-morbidity, or the dual-diagnosis of mental and medical disorders in a patient.

This year’s topic of co-morbidity was chosen based on the research of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Synthesis Project.

The most common mental disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia. And when coupled with a chronic medical condition, symptoms are often elevated. For instance, psychotropic medications can cause weight gain, which becomes a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

But the effects can pendulum the opposite direction—many treatments for chronic medical conditions have psychological side effects that may complicate underlying psychiatric disorders.

“Having the tools necessary to work with those individuals with co-morbidities is vital,” Amy Johnson, of the OU School of Nursing, said.

Paul McGhee is a laughter specialist who will coach nurses on the power of humor. Be sure to check out his website:

“Be here now”
For Paul McGhee, one of those tools is comedy.

The public speaker, former researcher and multi-published pioneer in the field of humor studies will return to the mitten to share his wisdom about the health benefits of laughter and positive emotion for patients and nurses.

Research has proven that laughter benefits patients with chronic conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, McGhee said. And “the key is positive emotion.”

With just a one-hour “comedy intervention,” as McGhee calls it, you can see a reduction in cytokine levels, or a component of the body’s immune system that can cause inflammation. Or in the case of diabetic patients, recent studies illustrate that laughter has been known to decrease blood glucose levels.

“That’s an exciting find,” he said.

McGhee also plans to coach nurses through the “be here now” method to illustrate how comedy helps the body cope with stress.

“Humor turns out to be especially good at getting the emotional trauma of a situation behind you so you can be present for the next patient,” he said. “If you’re the next patient with this team, you want their full attention.”

When he needs a good laugh, McGhee and his family enjoy watching episodes of “I Love Lucy.” But he suggests anything that can get you chuckling, it doesn’t even need to be belly laughter, he said.

For more information about the healing powers of laughter and positive emotion, be sure to check out his website:

Venerable Bup Chon Sunim, also known as Brent Eastman will take nurses back to the basics of the career—compassion—in his discussion at this weekend's conference.

A Buddhist monk’s modality
Speaking at OU for the first time, Venerable Bup Chon Sunim, also known as Brent Eastman will take nurses back to the root of the career—compassion.

Public relations professional and a Buddhist monk, Eastman is excited to bring the basic idea of compassion into both work lives and personal lives of nurses.

He will share some tips of what nurses can do daily for themselves and for their patients “to be more mindful and take care of each other.”

“You can be compassionate and caring and take care of people around you and have that be a driving force in your profession,” Eastman said, “It doesn’t have to be work and life, it can really blend together to a great benefit.”

The full presentation schedule includes:
•    The Complexity of Co-morbidity and its Implications by Sharon Freeman Clevenger
•    Mindfulness in Care (for caregiver and patient) by Venerable Bup Chon Sunim (Brent Eastman)
•    Relationship-Based Care by Kathleen Van Wagoner
•    Spirituality, Suffering and Illness: Lessons Learned from Research, Clinical Families and Living Life by Lorraine Wright
•    The Power of Laughter by Paul McGhee (lunch presentation)

Registration is free for students and $125 for the public. For more information about the conference, please visit

About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at

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