By: Grace-Marie Vega
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.