Here is the story about my first annual APTA CSM (Combined Sections Meeting, a national conference for Physical Therapists) experience last year (2016) in Anaheim, CA. There were many reasons to avoid going due to the sheer difficulty of school but I felt the need to learn more about the field of Physical Therapy, especially in a familiar location within driving distance from Las Vegas. Disneyland was a nice plus. I had fond memories as a Californian who went to UC Irvine for undergrad. For me personally, the experience was about being more than just a first year DPT student. Based on the advice I received from the faculty at my program (Touro University Nevada), my game plan was to simply explore. This was my opportunity to review the material I covered thus far in my first year. Also, I wanted to challenge myself to soak up as much as I could. I believed that I was in my prime for learning after spending hours upon hours in a classroom setting studying anatomy and physiology.
During my adventures, I valued the personal joys of learning from the sessions that I attended and seeing familiar faces along the way. The biggest surprise was sitting (out of ALL the seats in a large room) next to my former high school cross country teammate (DPT student at Samuel Merritt University) during a neurological research section presentation. I politely asked if the seat was taken and he replied, “Remember me?”
The most rewarding experience was attending a research poster presentation with a DPT student. I finally felt like a person rather than “just a student”. I chuckled a bit when the presenter mistook me for a licensed DPT, though I did look clean in my suit. The neurological research covered an experiment with mice on different diets and analysis of the spinal cords. I figured that I would be most comfortable in the Neuro section based on the vast amounts of hard science and little discussion on PT specifically. Part of my joy was being able to put my Bachelor’s Degree in biology to work and review some of the concepts I had recently learned in pharmacology and neuroscience.
I enjoyed checking out lecture presentations from different sections and topics (list at the bottom). Some sounded good but turned out to be awful and others turned out to be much better than I expected. The ones in smaller rooms teneded to be better. Be aware that generally, some presentations tend to be boring and heavily focused on research rather than practical clinical implications. As someone who had a brachial plexus injury at birth, I attended a presentation on brachial plexopathy. To my surprise, the talk was focused on the army. It was interesting hearing about conditions like HNPP (hereditary neuropathy with liability for pressure palsy). The brachial plexus diagram was fresh in my mind from covering anatomy and taking kinesiology. I enjoyed watching videos of clinical presentation and hearing how the PT performed a differential diagnosis. Nerdy me felt cool learning about CMAPs (compound motor action potentials) and SNAPs (sensory nerve action potentials) in relation to the tables of data from needle electromyography (unpleasant for the patient).
The expo and booths were interesting with all the different toys. The first familiar face I saw was my former boss’ boss. She was just as pleasantly surprised (no sarcasm here; she was always awesome) and commented about how PT is a small world.
Last but not least, here is a quick story about the power of social media and friendships. I checked my Facebook feed after posting a selfie of me looking sharp in my blazer. I am an overall humble person but could not resist the opportunity. What astonished me was the fact that my brother’s friend, Kota Reichert (see picture above) was presenting about blood and bone marrow transplants. He works in the Oncology Rehab Department at Stanford University. Naturally, I had to cancel going to a presentation on pediatrics and rehab with premautre infants. Kota’s talk was in a smaller meeting room and felt more intimate. Out of all the talks, I liked this group. Again, as a bio major in undergrad, I loved this presentation. This was one of the few instances where I felt that I had the advantage as a first year DPT student fresh with the knowledge from the hard science coursework. Kota was on point, especially while fielding the questions with poignant responses. This was what I longed for… real discussion amongst healthcare professionals to improve patient care rather than fueling egos. The questions were relevant and the discussion improved my understanding of PT (as well as everyone else in the room).
Finishing up with serious thoughts. Patients can decrease adherence to an exercise program for numerous reasons but one that cannot be overlooked is response to medical treatment. Response to chemotherapy is unpredictable and can severely limit the patient’s ability to participate with PT. Patients could be motivated for all types of reasons. Most of all, patients are people. Being diagnosed with cancer is no joke. How people respond depends on numerous factors. As a PT, working in the Oncology Department provides the opportunity to see familiar patients with the genuine intent of helping them return to their home and ideally not require your services in the future.
Thank you for reading! Also, feel free to learn more about my second CSM experience where I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Michael Wong of Physio U again but let him sign my copy of his Ortho handbook! If you want the unique opportunity to virtually meet influential PTs and DPT students like Dr. Wong and myself, feel free to check out the PT Conference Facebook group that I created for us to get connected BEFORE the time crunch at CSM! For those who are interested, here is the list of presentations that I attended. The handouts should be available for APTA members on the APTA website.
Acute Brachial Plexopathy in the Young Adult: Emphasis on the Direct Access Physical Therapy Model and the Electrophysiological Evaluation
Blood and Marrow Transplant: Rehab Considerations
Optimizing Exercise Effects on Neuroplasticity to Promote Rehabilitation
Practical Gait Analysis & Retraining for the Injured Runner