How to Rock a CSM Conference

Name: Grace-Marie Vega

Undergrad: Arizona State University

Hometown: Placentia, CA

Fun Fact: I take pub trivia very seriously!

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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:

  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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.

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Coming to PT School From Another Career

 

Quite a few of our classmates came to physical therapy school after 1, 2, or even 3 previous careers! Laura and Tara are academic all-stars, wonderful additions to our Class of 2018 cohort, and have some of the coolest past experiences out there.  

Name: Laura Baker, Class of 2018
Undergrad: University of New Hampshire, Durham
Hometown: Seville, Ohio
Fun Fact: During college, I studied abroad in Tamil Nadu, India!

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Name: Tara Businski, Class of 2018
Undergrad: Bates College
Hometown: East Lansing, MI
Fun Fact: I have swum in 4 of the world’s 5 oceans.

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First off, tell me about yourself. 

Laura: I grew up on a small farm in Ohio. My father raised hogs and grew crops while my mom operated a strawberry business. Much to the delight of the unsuspecting customers, chaos ensued when piglets escaped from their pens and ran straight for the berry patch.

I chose UNH for my undergraduate degree because of their intriguing curriculum and to chase after the ocean and mountains. I received a resource economics degree that laid the foundation for my natural resource conservation career. After graduation, I spent a year in Queensland, Australia as an intern studying resource economics of tropical rainforest re-forestation. I chose my next job as a forest conservation activist based on running: the people of Ketchikan, Alaska informed me that there were miles of trails (and black bears and wolves were rarely problematic). So there I went–Alaska or bust! I spent the next 11 years working various conservation jobs in Alaska with the majority of my time being spent at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Juneau.

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Laura doing some plant surveying for TNC

Tara: I grew up in Michigan, went to college in Maine, then moved to Newfoundland to study biological oceanography. After 4 years of graduate school, I joined the Marine Corps to be a helicopter pilot. I stayed in that job for almost 9 years, then resigned to come to PT school.

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Tara’s Christmas in Afghanistan

When did PT first catch your eye as a future career? 

Laura: I’ve had a number of encounters with physical therapists, most resulting from mundane, physics-gone-wrong scenarios: a torn ACL here, a nagging hamstring injury there, a helluva whiplash and concussion situation, etc.

After I turned 30, I felt like I had lost the passion for working in the natural resource field; I quit my job and travelled for a year. Several months into drinking wine and picking olives in Italy, I found myself unhappy with my state of uncertainty.  I knew that physical therapy was a profession with attributes that aligned well with my values and goals: a specific and defined skill set, available work in remote areas of Alaska, and getting to support others’ well-being in a tangible way. It seemed like the perfect next step!

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Laura on the job in AK

Tara: When I was considering post-military careers, I was looking for an intellectual challenge and a consistent schedule. I had a biology degree, a Pilates teaching certificate, and a little medical background from my time as an EMT and as a search and rescue volunteer. Physical therapy seemed like a logical extension of these experiences. I’m excited about the new challenges, variety at work, and job prospects.

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Talk about a cool past career! 

Describe how you went from thinking about PT as a career and getting into PT school.

Laura: I came back to Alaska to work odd jobs and sent myself back to school for the basic sciences. I shadowed physical therapists in various settings in Anchorage and Juneau and gave myself 2 years to get accepted into PT school. If, within that time frame, I was not accepted to a program, I figured it was not meant to be and that I would return to the conservation world with new goals and intentions.

Tara: I observed in an outpatient clinic on the base where I was stationed for a handful of hours, but was unable to get very many hours due to work demands. I also took anatomy and physiology at the local community college in the evenings. After I decided on Regis for PT school, I was able to get more observation time at the naval hospital in San Diego. That experience was invaluable and has had a major impact on my interests within the PT profession.

What is an unexpected challenge in PT school?

Laura: I could not have anticipated how much I miss the relationships I had built during my time in Alaska. Also, I’m giving up years of income and will be facing a level of financial instability that makes me squeamish. However, I am completely energized by my motivated classmates, committed faculty, and opportunities that I could not have otherwise imagined!

Tara: Group work across generations. I didn’t even have dial-up internet until high school! While I am proficient with technology, messaging and social media are not as natural to me as for many of my classmates. I like meeting face-to-face much more than messaging…And how many different messaging apps do I really need, anyway? Can’t all my different groups just use the same one? Modes of communication that appear effortless to others take extra time and energy for me to work with

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Tara and Laura take a study break on their bikes

What’s an unexpected awesome part of PT school?

Laura: I am thrilled about the professional and leadership development offered within the curriculum at Regis.

Tara: Being on the puppy raising team!

 

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Laura: My plan is to practice in southeast Alaska where towns are located among the islands. I cannot say if I will be in a specific clinic, providing tele-medicine, or traveling on the ferry or floatplane to treat people in remote areas. I can say that I am looking forward to settling back into life in Alaska where everyone moves just a little slower than in the big city and where patients compete to bring you their finest smoked salmon.

Tara: Denver–I don’t want to move any more! I’m interested in working with patients with neurologic health conditions so I’d like to be in a rehab center or hospital.

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Tara and Laura sip some cocktails and study for a neuro test

What pieces of advice do you have to incoming students (particularly those coming from another field)?

 

Laura: My advice to incoming “career-changer” DPT students is to practice patience with yourself and others and to recognize that your skills and experience from previous work add significant value to this field.

Tara: Beware of hubris. You bring life experience and maturity to your new profession but you’re still a novice. On the flip side, don’t sell yourself short. You may be new to PT, but have confidence in your new skills and use your life experience to improve communication with your patients and to manage time.

Also, homework sucks. However, when you think nostalgically about being able to leave work behind at the end of the day, remind yourself that school work is helping you become good at your new job. Also, it lasts less than 3 years, so you’ll get back to the real world soon (or so I believe)!

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Questions for the bloggers? Email Tara at tbusinski@regis.edu or Laura at lbaker@regis.edu.