As a physical therapy student and future physical therapist, the APTA is something you will hear about over and over again. With job opportunities, continuing education classes, research updates and legislation information, the APTA has endless amounts of information at the hands of students and professionals. However, the website and all the resources may seem a little overwhelming. Therefore, here is a little introduction into the APTA and how you can use it to further your education and career.
What is the APTA?
The APTA, or the American Physical Therapy Association, is a professional organization that represents physical therapy students, physical therapists and physical therapy assistants and has over 103,000 members. It is divided into state chapters each with a governing board. We at Regis University are fortunate to have Cameron MacDonald as an assistant professor, and he is the current president of the Colorado chapter which currently has 2,700 members. It is vital for each state to have a chapter since each state has different practice guidelines and thus must have individual legislation.
There are also sections within the APTA, which include: acute care, aquatics, cardiovascular and pulmonary, education, federal, geriatrics, hand and upper extremity, home health, pediatrics, private practice and quite a few others. These sections allow you as a student or current PT to learn more information about different specialties. For example, I am part of the neurology section and as such, I get quarterly journals that inform me on the latest research and new updates in the realm of neurology and how it affects the physical therapy industry.
Districts are even smaller groups which are broken up by geographical location and each chapter has SIGs or special interest groups. Colorado has five statewide SIGs which include: Colorado Acute/Rehab SIG, Pediatric SIG, Private Practice SIG, PTA SIG and the Student SIG.
Continuing education (CE) classes happen often and allow students or PTs/PTAs to learn more about a specific topic and have hands on practice. I attended a vestibular and concussion CE class last fall and it completely opened my eyes to a world of physical therapy I had never heard of before. The APTA has a national conference called Combined Sections Meeting, or CSM, which is an incredible opportunity to learn about the profession and what new research developments are forthcoming. CSM is also a great way to network and get to know other practitioners in the physical therapy profession. The Colorado Chapter also has an annual convention called the Fall Convention & Expo.
How can I use the APTA?
Now that you have an introduction, it is important to know what you can do NOW. Depending on where you are in your journey, this may be different for each of you. If you are currently applying to PT school, the APTA website can help guide you in preparing for your interview questions, help you understand what is in your scope of practice depending on the state and school you apply to, and impress the faculty by understanding what is happening in the PT profession.
As you start your graduate school career, the first step is to become an APTA member! Some graduate programs require it, others do not. Either way, I highly recommend you become part of the association so you can reap the full benefits of the APTA and have your voice heard. Click here for joining the APTA. Attending state and national conventions will also give you a huge head start on understanding what the real world of physical therapy is like and they are a great chance to meet students from all over the US and also network! The easiest step is to get involved with SIGs. Each university will have student special interest groups which hold meetings and special guest lecturers which allow students to connect and communicate about a specific PT specialty.
At Regis and CU Denver, we have multiple sSIGs that our students are involved in and I am lucky enough to be involved with the APTA sSIG this year. I will be working closely with the other sSIGs as well as the PTA schools to have a year of amazing events for our students. We hope to open their eyes to all the opportunities in Colorado. These include: panels about specialties and what to do after graduation, a kickball tournament, a national advocacy dinner and so much more!
Yes, this was a lot of information. No, I do not expect anyone to remember it all. But it is important that you get involved and find what you are passionate about. So now, go to www.apta.org and become a member today!
By: Lina Kleinschmidt
CSM, or the Combined Sections Meeting of APTA, is a 4-day national conference held annually, attracting thousands of students, practitioners, and researchers in the physical therapy field. These are some things I learned from CSM 2018 in New Orleans that I hope will help you navigate through future conferences:
- There are so many possibilities! CSM had over 300 educational sessions over the course of three days, not including poster presentations, platform presentations, and networking events. It was a whirlwind of people, places, and free giveaways. To get the experience that you want, and to avoid option paralysis, take some time beforehand to prioritize what you really want to see! In preparation for your own national conference, download the APTA conferences app so you can add programming to your own schedule. The WiFi in the conference halls can be unreliable, so I suggest that you make a plan before you get there, and glance at the map too.
- Do not underestimate your knowledge. On my first day of CSM, I chose programming with subject matter that I felt I knew well enough to discuss. It turns out that I did know it well, because I had already studied it in my coursework, and even read some of the referenced articles. Basically that program was review, and a reassurance that Regis DPT coursework incorporates current best evidence. But I could have learned new things and expanded my awareness of topics that may not get as much coverage in coursework. For the rest of the conference, I tried to pick topics that I was interested in, but not experienced in, and in doing so, I realized that I was not out of my depth. Challenge yourself, and trust that you probably know more than you think.
- Use public transit! Although less convenient, it’s cheaper and arguably more fun than taxis, ubers, and car rentals. I purchased a transit pass that allowed me to utilize all local buses and trolleys. For 3 dollars a day, I rode around New Orleans with locals and CSM attendees alike, and I felt like I was experiencing the city in a much more intimate capacity. Shoutout to the good people of New Orleans who always seem willing to make conversation and give restaurant recommendations while waiting for trolleys.
- Network! As a self-proclaimed hater of all networking-related activity, I urge you to do this! Allow me to make a blanket statement and say that physical therapists are friendly, kind, and wonderful people who love talking to students, sharing their knowledge, and saving lives. Asking questions in educational sessions, talking to vendors in the exhibit hall, and even making small talk with the PT sitting next to you are all ways to get more out of your CSM experience. It’s also a way to dip your toes into the ocean of job hunting. I left with business cards, new aspirations to become a travel therapist, and more free t-shirts than I care to admit.
- Quality over quantity! Strike a balance between conference time and exploration time. You could easily spend your time doing nothing but CSM from dawn to dusk, and that’s awesome! But, you don’t have to do that. You can get there a day early or take a later flight out if it means you have time to wander and be inspired by a new city, new friends, or live music. Your memory of this time will likely not only include the conference, but the people you were with and the place you were in. In my opinion, when you finally get home, your heart should be full, and your feet should be sore.
By: Grace-Marie Vega