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Whether it's the record-setting number of participants, the quality and variety of content delivered, or the new connections made among students from across the country, the bottom line is that the 2020 APTA National Student Conclave was an unqualified success. And if you registered for the meeting you have until Dec. 31 to watch — or re-watch — all of the events.

As with all APTA events since spring of 2020, the conclave was held virtually. The student-focused conference was conducted over five days, Nov. 4-8, and upheld the NSC tradition of providing a variety of sessions that covered not just PT and PTA students' concerns in the here-and-now, but larger professional and societal issues. The event also included a presentation by Special Olympics athletes and a virtual dance break attended (virtually) by more than 100 people.

By any measure, the conference was a hit: NSC recorded more than 3,200 registrants, blowing away the event's previous record of 1,700 in-person attendees in 2006. Several PT and PTA programs provided registrations for their students, both upping participation and increasing the spirit of connection among registrants.

The virtual format offers another big plus: All content was recorded and, along with a package of 27 prerecorded sessions, is available to NSC registrants on demand through the end of the year.

Recorded live content includes Boston Marathon bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet and stroke survivor Maggie Whittum engaging with moving keynotes and Q&A sessions. It includes APTA members Leiselle Pilgrim, PT, DPT, MPH, and Fred Gilbert, PT, DPT, discussing association involvement and lessons learned in their early-career transitions. And it includes a dialogue with APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, who continued her tradition of answering student questions in a virtual townhall.

"NSC provided the strong, inspiring, relevant content that people always loved about this conference," said Lisa McLaughlin, executive director of the APTA Student Assembly and the APTA PTA Caucus. "At a time when so many feel disrupted and disconnected, it was wonderful to experience such a vibrant sense of community."

As the health crisis continues, virtual opportunities aren’t going away.

The annual APTA Combined Sections Meeting will provide on-demand and live programming starting Feb. 1. Prior to that, Jan. 16-17, a special APTA Founders’ Day Weekend Series will include special lectures and panel discussions. Registration for both events will open later this month.

As for the future of NSC?

Like NEXT, APTA is sunsetting NSC after this year. However, APTA always intended to find new ways to engage students and early-career members as those conferences go away, and the success of virtual events in 2020 demonstrates that this change is coming at the right time.

"NEXT and NSC were always well reviewed by participants, but attendance at those events suffered as the APTA Combined Sections Meeting became increasingly popular and many people didn’t have the flexibility to attend multiple in-person conferences in the same year," said Jason Bellamy, executive vice president of strategic communications.

"We’re still exploring future in-person engagement opportunities – particularly those that allow our members to visit our new headquarters – but it’s clear we can increase participation with virtual and hybrid events that require less time and financial commitment. Our priority is to make it easier for the physical therapy community to engage with our offerings and each other, and we’re evolving to meet that goal."

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