My First National Professional Conference: APTA Next – Chicago
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes
Here I am in the 18th grade and I’m still going on school field trips, but this one was different from the rest.
I know what you’re thinking. No, the difference isn’t that I took a plane instead of a bus like all my other field trips. It’s that I felt like the friends I made, the things I learned, and the inspiring people I listened to truly made me a better person.
The leadership and the passion were contagious at APTA’s NEXT Conference & Exhibition. And while I know that it’s the smallest national conference for the profession, my experience helped me start off on the right foot for all professional conferences that I’ll attend in the future.
The week started off on a high note when leadership from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) and APTA tweeted out about kicking off the meeting with a conversation on collaboration between my 2 favorite professions. This was on Sunday and I still had 2 days of class before I would fly out to Chicago, so I was even more excited to attend.
Before conference officially started President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, gave a speech and mentioned the conversation that she had with NATA President Tory Lindley. She spoke about how in 2012 NATA and APTA had previous talks about collaboration, but nothing really came about it until recently. Now, we are publicly putting our best foot forward and engaging in talks about the future of health care. I’m happy to see the ball has started rolling on this project!
Fast-forward to NEXT Opening Event. The keynote speaker, US Army Master Sergeant (Retired) Justin Minyard, shared his battle with chronic pain and how physical therapy changed his life. I had chills just listening to the powerful story of how he was affected by the opioid crisis after he suffered devastating injuries and how physical therapy turned his life around. It was one of the most inspiring and compelling speeches that I have listened to, and it just made me feel like what I’m learning to do as a career will truly have the ability to change people’s lives for the best. Each one of us in that room has or will have the knowledge and the skill set to bring our patients to places they might not think were possible, and that right there, just fuels my inspiration to keep working hard in school.
Another favorite event from NEXT was the Oxford Debate. The topic was, “Is Social Media Hazardous to the Profession?” I had a great time running back and forth in front of the stage as each side was presenting their case. At the end of the debate I found myself siding with Team Hazardous, which might seem a little ironic because of how much I’m on social media. But hey, have you ever tried not siding with someone as compelling as Jimmy McKay? It all came down to the point that most people are going to be on social media, so we might as well be smart about it and practice #SafeSocial. At the end of the day, what we do online will be there forever, so we have to make smart decisions about what we make public.
All of the students I met throughout conference were passionate and energized about our profession and involvement. It was evident to me that these students will be the ones to push our profession forward and help it thrive in the future, and after this experience, I hope to be one of those students too.
If there was one thing that I was sure of when I left this conference it was that I want to become more involved in the profession. Whether it’s on a local, state, or national level I now know that I want to make my mark with the hope to grow professionally and personally, and to help our profession reach new heights.
Check out highlights from NEXT 2019 in Chicago! View NEXT News and videos.
Sean O'Gara, SPT, ATC, is a student at the University of Miami and serves as a member of the APTA National Student Conclave Project Committee. You can connect with Sean on Twitter at: @seanogPT.