College of Nursing

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Bamboo bridge project holds first international meeting

April 17, 2007

East Carolina University's School of Nursing recently hosted the first international meeting of the Bamboo Bridge project, designed to promote a greater understanding and collaboration of traditional and modern health care.

The project is being launched under the guidance of Dr. Martha Libster, associate professor of nursing at ECU. Other partners are Assumption University of Thailand Nursing Science, the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing, the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Nursing's Global Health Leadership Office and Sigma Theta Tau, the international honor society of nursing.

The project promotes global partnership between nurses and traditional community healers.

The World Health Organization defines traditional medicine or healing, such as herbal remedies, hydrotherapies and spiritual ritual, as methods routinely used before the arrival of modern medicine. Also called western or biomedicine, modern medicine is the dominate system of health care in most industrialized nations. Bamboo serves as the metaphoric bridge in crossing cultures, healing traditions and emerging technologies.

"Everything for me is plant-related and has been since I was knee-high to a weed," said Libster, internationally known for her work integrating nursing practice and healing traditions, particularly the use of botanical therapies. She is a health care historian, nurse psychotherapist and 'herbal diplomat,' also the title of one of her books, and serves on the advisory board of the American Botanical Council.

Nurses are often educated in urban areas or facilities closely aligned with medical centers focused on modern medicine. However, nurses have historically worked in rural communities and facilities that support traditional medicine. Elderberry, loaded with vitamin C and garlic, a potent antioxidant, has been used for hundreds of years as a traditional home remedy. Even the root of sweet-smelling kudzu, a prolific vine in North Carolina, is being researched for medicinal uses. Eighty percent of the world's population continues to use traditional methods of healing, according to the WHO.

Through their roles, nurses often serve as 'cultural diplomats' as they consider conventional recommendations and evidence-based decisions in health care, according to the Bamboo Bridge Web site, .

The Bamboo Bridge project fosters opportunities for cross-fertilization of knowledge and practice between nurses and traditional healers with a focus of achieving a greater understanding of situations in which traditional and biomedical health care beliefs and practices can complement each other, according to the Web site.