This First-Time Conference Goer Has Something to Say
Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
When people hear the word "Orlando," the first thought that crosses their mind may be Disney World, Universal Studios, or SeaWorld.
From now on, though, when I hear "Orlando," I will be thinking about the 4 days in the summer of 2018 that changed my life forever.
For me, the flight from Providence, Rhode Island, to Orlando, Florida, for APTA's NEXT Conference was met with some deep reflections of what this experience was going to be like.
What sessions should I attend? What is volunteering going to be like? What if I get lost? Who am I going to meet?
After arriving at the convention center, I marveled at the immediate sense of welcome that I felt.
Walking to my first session, which ironically was for first-time conference goers on how to navigate conference, I was immediately greeted by clinicians and students with a warm smile and a genuine hello.
Several APTA staff members and the current APTA Student Assembly Board of Directors President, Jeremy Curtis, PT, DPT, discussed what to expect at this conference, how to network, and how to navigate the massive exhibit hall. Addressing first-time conference attendees, they laid the groundwork of what the next few days would have in store and how to make the most of the experience.
Later that day, I attended the conference volunteer training meeting.
For those who are unfamiliar, both APTA CSM and NEXT offer the opportunity for students from across the country to volunteer at educational and general conference sessions. You essentially are provided with a schedule that highlights what sessions you must cover and what tasks you have when you arrive.
Although as a volunteer you may not be able to attend each session that you want due to volunteering duties, I'd still highly recommend any student to participate as a volunteer, not only because your conference registration is partially reimbursed, but also because the connection you make with your fellow student volunteers is a strong one. Oh, and I forget to mention, you also get a really cool free conference t-shirt!
Many of the students I connected with at the NEXT conference were also volunteers. The first 2 that I met happened to be from Milford, Connecticut, which is 15 minutes from Sacred Heart University (where I go to school). It made me realize how small the physical therapy world actually is, even with the thousands of PTs, PTAs, and students who attend each conference.
Exploring the exhibit hall was one of the highlights of my conference experience. Chapters and sections are represented, as well as vendors and companies from across the globe, all related to our profession. I spent much of my time at the APTA Student Assembly booth conversing and connecting with other student attendees.
Talking to these clinicians and students really informed me about what's going on in our profession at a national level—especially speaking to fellow PT students who could relate to where I am in life as a student as well. It was interesting to swap stories, experiences, and so much more with students from so many different places. This experience definitely provided me with valuable insights that have ultimately helped me improve myself as a student of physical therapy and also as a leader.
The APTA Student Assembly hosted sessions for and by student PTs and PTAs. Ideas, opinions, and voices from students who attended were recognized and taken into consideration for later discussions by the student board—who represents all PT and PTA student members of APTA. I think that this is crucial in our profession: to use opinions and experiences of others in order to improve processes and functions, whether clinically, academically, or administratively.
During both sessions I could feel the energy and passion of all of the students in the room, and it created a dynamic in which everyone was engaged and excited to be there.
It is one thing to experience our profession and the #PTFam on social media, but it is totally different to experience in person where you can finally put faces to the names you keep seeing on your feed and engage in conversation with them.
Throughout the conference there were numerous sessions, gatherings, and events that allowed me would network and connect with clinicians and students, exchanging names and social media accounts to keep in touch.
The common theme that I noticed throughout the conference was the simplicity of conversation. I was able to connect with each individual on a level that was much deeper than just physical therapy. By bringing our profession together, this conference helped foster the ability to connect with individuals on a personal level, which is one of the aspects that I valued most about my first conference experience. I was able to learn much more about each person and what drives them, which will, in the end, help me better myself. Each person's experience is different, so learning about so many individuals allowed me to see the big picture about our profession and what makes it so special.
My experiences and opportunities at NEXT have definitely shaped my passion and ignited the fire inside of me to strive to serve and engage with our professional association to advocate for our patients, and to build everlasting relationships along the way.
I've shared my recent conference experience with you to also tell you that APTA's National Student Conclave, a conference designed by and for PT and PTA students, is happening in October. If you're debating whether to attend NSC 2018, think about it this way: my NEXT experience included a variety of professionals and students, and while NSC will host PTs, PTAs, and of course students, the attendees are almost all students. And these aren't just any students, these are students who are motivated, inspired, excited, and passionate about our profession.
Join us this fall in Providence, Rhode Island, for NSC 2018 and have your own lasting experience.
Kyle Stapleton, SPT, is a student at Sacred Heart University and serves on the APTA Student Assembly National Student Conclave Project Committee and as the APTA Student Assembly Core Ambassador for Connecticut. You can connect with Kyle on Twitter at: @kylestapleton10.