The Convention Center was overwhelming. I had arrived from the metro and there were a flurry of clinicians and students walking around. I needed to get my badge but had no idea where to start.
This past January 2019, I attended my first professional PT conference, the APTA Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) up in Washington, DC. I was incredibly lucky to have the conference in my home town and to have a caravan of fellow VCU students heading up there. As a student, I was unsure what I could absorb, as I still had little clinical experience. However, there was a dizzying array of topics to learn about: from pain science, to wound care, to neuro-plastic changes after ACL injury.
I started with a menu of topics of interest, most of them relating to pain science and orthopedic physical therapy. I was excited to see a PT who I follow on Instagram (a virtual mentor of sorts) who would be presenting on Heavy Slow Resistance Training for runners, in a talk titled “Welcome to the Resistance”. The talk was an incredible discussion about a new paradigm in rehabilitation of running injuries. Instead of focusing mostly on small, isolated movements (like clamshells), the presenters advocated for larger, compound movements to train the whole kinetic chain, such as squats and deadlifts. The presenters also shared compelling research evidence about the injury risk reduction benefits of strength training for runners. Although much of the current PT curriculum focus on targeted specific muscles and isolation, such presentations like this one, may help to shift the paradigm to a more holistic, global approach to rehab.
I also attended several talks on the new area of pain neuroscience and was able to participate in Q & A with some of the top researchers in the field. People who I had read about online or had heard of through the grapevine were demystified. Admittedly, I was star struck when I met a PT whose work I followed for several years and was part of my inspiration to attend PT school. Striking up a conversation with him was quite nerve racking, but has actually led to my involvement in online discussions in the area of performance and rehab. Beyond just “networking”, seeing these top clinicians and researchers in person helped me realize that they were just people. People who I could actually aspire to be like, to model, and to hopefully make an impact with. In addition, it was invigorating to meet other students interested in similar topics. Although PT school tends to attract motivated, Type-A personalities, meeting other students can be motivating to add a fresh take on your own schooling.
Coming back to school I felt renewed. Beyond an intellectual understanding of why conferences are helpful, I felt why they are necessary. PT is an amazing field, but like any profession, it is easy to fall into a rut and to feel like the job is routinized with little growth. I know that in the future, I don’t just want to, but MUST attend conferences and other continuing education events to “sharpen the saw”. I hope to be a CI after graduating and I would absolutely recommend students attend a conference, even before they have clinical experience.