I just attended my first American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) this year. I am fortunate enough to have been allowed time off from my current clinical experience to attend this event; my clinic as well as my CI are absolutely amazing! My CI fully supported me going to this event as she had an overwhelming positive experience when she attended while she was in school. Thanks so much!
For those of you who have never attended one before, this is THE conference to go to for those in the physical therapy profession whether you are a PT, PTA or a student. I believe this one was the biggest thus far with a whopping 11,000 people attending this year! Holy cow!
I flew out early so I could sightsee, meet people and settle in without being in a rush; plus I had to be there early for our volunteer orientation on what else?… how to scan people into their sessions – super fun right? I reserved a place on Airbnb for the conference, which was super convenient for me and my roommates in which we only spent $100 each for 5 nights.
When I arrived at the place, I was greeted by one of the owners and their dogs. It was my first time doing Airbnb and I was pleasantly surprised. The couple that owned the place are really nice and the place we stayed matched with their personality. I was properly greeted by their two lovely dogs
Later that night, one of my roommates flew in and of course we have to experience the In and Out Burger. Yum!
I am fortunate enough to network with some really cool PTs and #DPTstudent beforehand on Twitter so I was able to hang out with a couple before everyone else flew in the next day. I had so much fun getting to hang with some big names in the Twitter world. I got to reunite with Sarah Haag (@SarahHaagPT) the day I flew in, which was awesome! I got to talk shop with Sarah, her business partner Sandy Hilton (@SandyHiltonPT) and a bunch of their colleagues. Sarah apparently likes to introduce me to her friends as the “Famous @MarkyKev on Twitter” because she says to me, “you’re kind of a big deal now on Twitter.”
The next day was just as exciting as I got to have lunch with the famous Ben Fung (@DrBenFung) and Gene Shirokobrod (@therapyinsiders) at Earl of Sandwich in Downtown Disney.
The next few days were a whirlwind of adventure. It was literally nonstop action where I would wake up early, get to the convention center, do my volunteer shift, sit in on sessions and/or meet with my Twitter friends in real life, wander the exhibit hall, eat, drink, sleep and repeat. It went by so fast; to think I spent a whole five days here in California! Honestly, I think the flight over to California from New Jersey felt longer. I guess time flies when you’re having fun.
During the times that I wasn’t scanning people into their sessions or listening in on talks, I was networking and talking with professionals and students. It was great to finally put a face to a name that I only knew from Twitter. It was so cool to be approached by people and have them ask, “You look familiar, are you Mark from Twitter?” I mean, how cool is that?! I even had a fellow student come up to me thanking me for my blog posts; heck, I didn’t even know people read my stuff. He thanked me for inspiring him with my blog posts to keep writing for his blog. That’s an amazing feeling to know how much of a positive influence you can have outside of the clinic.
I talked to so many people throughout this conference that I actually lost my voice and sound like a prepubescent boy with my voice cracking every 5 seconds; my friends during the last days of CSM can attest to that.
The one thing I learned during my time at CSM was not during an educational session, but when I was interacting with people in our very own profession. Every PT I got to interact with, I felt like I talked them to death #SorryNotSorry and picked their brains with so many questions I had. It was really heartwarming, as cheesy as this sounds, to hear so many words of support and encouragement from all the PTs I have talked with at CSM. The massive amounts of positive vibes has definitely recharged me to not only return to my clinical affiliation in full gear, but also to have something to look forward to after graduation; having an opportunity to call these people my colleagues and getting to learn and pick the brains of some of the brightest and coolest people in the profession.
“Jobs don’t care about what school you went to or your test grades” – Monique Caruth (@)
As you probably already know, I’m currently in my clinical affiliation which happens to be at a Level II Trauma Center; so I’m seeing everything under the sun from strokes, gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents. It’s really challenging as a student because these are medically complex cases, but on the other hand it’s a really awesome experience; very few, if any, of my classmates are getting the same experience that I’m getting. That being said, I had second thoughts on what I wanted to pursue after graduation; I had a new found interest in Acute Care, specifically trauma ICU because of my time at this clinical affiliation.
“. . . re: trauma hospital… you are LEAGUES ahead” – Ben Fung referring to my clinical placement at a Trauma Hospital.
I was really torn about deciding Acute Care vs a Sports oriented outpatient clinic for my last clinical affiliation; and seriously debating on whether I wanted to pursue a sports residency after graduation. I think attending CSM re-kindled the fire and passion I had for sports PT and sports performance. I talked to some bright minds in the profession which gave me some perspective on the future. The one big piece of advice came from my talk with Kyle Ridgeway (@). He gave me some interesting insight and thoughts on directing my path as a future Physical Therapist.
“No matter which path you choose, you can’t go wrong. That’s the beauty of our profession.”
Some advice for those who are attending conferences
Get yourself on twitter!
- Twitter seems confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s simple and addicting. I remember Jess Schwartz (@DPT2Go) say to me “I remember when you just started on Twitter and to see you all grown up now is amazing.” You’d be surprised what social media can do for you. I’ve made so many connections on twitter that when the time came to coming to CSM, it was just a matter of meeting each other. . . with hugs especially if you meet Ann Wendel (@PranaPT) for the first time.
Bring a power pack for your mobile devices!
- If you’re like me and always on twitter, your phone is going to die fast! Bring something at least rated 4,000 mAh. Plus, you’ll be using your phone to snap photos, text, and checking out the sessions with the official CSM app.
Bring a decently sized backpack
- Remember you’re allowed two carry-on items; one for the overhead bin and one for underneath the seat in front of you. Personally, I like only traveling with carry-on luggage. It’s easier to tote around a backpack to carry every day items like a jacket/sweatshirt, snacks, charger and all the free swag you’ll accumulate during your time at the conference. I personally recommend the GoRuck GR1 and their Civvy kit. They look cool, but also are really tough and functional. Plus they’re made in America #Merica.
- Food will be seriously overpriced at the conventions especially at the hotels. Bring something to nibble on in between sessions to get you fueled and ready to go.
Put yourself out there and talk to people!
- Personally, I’m a really introverted person. I find it very difficult to put myself out there to complete strangers. But if you don’t ask, the answers will always be no. You never know who you will meet and the new opportunities that could come from just introducing yourself to someone. Remember, most PT’s have been in your shoes before and are more than willing to pay it forward and help you out.
Look to help cut the costs
- I didn’t want to spend a ton of money on flying out here for the conference. Look up ways to help cut the costs. Look for scholarships both private and if your school offers some. Try to look for alternative places to stay like AirBnb and splitting the rent with people you networked with on Twitter (Use this link to save $20 off) Volunteer! APTA has volunteer opportunities for students during conferences that reimburse all if not most of the registration fee. I highly recommend that if you’re interested, make sure you try and sign up the day that they open because they go FAST. I was fortunate enough to be selected as one this year.
Wear comfy shoes
- You will be walking A LOT. I felt like Forrest Gump at the end of his run…
Suck it up
- This leads to my next suggestion; don’t to bed early. Sure, there will be educational sessions during the day, but the real magic happens during the late night where you truly get to meet and talk to people. This is where you network! Remember, you never know who you’ll meet. You’ll have plenty of time to sleep on the flight back!
Choose, but choose wisely
- My suggestion to choosing what sessions is to pick something you’ve never learned but are interested in. For example, there were a lot of ACL talks, but since I’m a student, most of the information we already learned about in school. I was a little bored. If you do choose something that you never heard about and are interested, you’ll be more engaged in listening instead of snoozing off and trying to find another session to hop in on.
So far, this has been the most exciting experience in my physical therapy career (you know, besides that feeling when you get that acceptance letter to PT school – I don’t think anything will ever top that… errr maybe passing the boards? haha). I’ve met so many awesome people during my time at CSM and I would highly recommend for professionals and students who are on the fence about going, to go. So what are you waiting for? Start planning! I promise you won’t regret it!