Most of my connections and many of the opportunities I have had throughout my career have been ignited at professional conferences. To say the least, I am a “conference junkie”—my passion to advance within the profession and assure patient access to rehabilitation services blossom there. I relish being surrounded by passionate physical therapists that work toward improvement and innovation.
The conference I’d be attending next was called the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM). This was a special conference for me, as I was attending and presenting with Alicia. The months leading up to our presentation were quite exciting. I knew Alicia’s capabilities, her desire to learn, and her underlying passion for leadership. We spent many evenings after work discussing our literature reviews, ideas on implementing PT-PTA mentorship programs, and best practices within the company. We coached each other through the slideshow and encouraged one another throughout the process. I looked forward to connecting her with the leaders I admire most.
Alicia and I were presenting a session with two other colleagues, entitled, “Team Dynamite! Fostering the PT-PTA Relationship to Enhance Clinic Culture and the Patient Experience.” Our talk uniquely combined the expertise of (1) a private practice physical therapist who received “on the job training” about team-based approaches with physical therapist assistants (PTAs), (2) a PTA and administrator passionate about expanding mentorship programs between PTs and PTAs, (3) a PTA program director knowledgeable about educational and legal requirements for PTAs, and (4) a CEO of a private practice corporation familiar with financial implications and the hiring practices of running a business.
After I went to the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM), presented, and met a multitude of people, I realized I needed to become more involved in my profession,” said Alicia Backer, PTA. “No one made me feel foolish because I didn’t understand aspects of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Instead, people were excited to educate me. This made me feel included and important.
Yes, conferences can be very inclusive and the takeaways, life changing. However, despite all the pros of conference jumping, there are cons: attending conferences can be expensive and time consuming. I have found that there are four reasons physical, occupational and speech therapists should attend professional conferences:
Expand your Network
This is one of the most important reasons to attend professional meetings. The first time I went to a conference, I attended alone; I was forced to talk to people I had never met before. I had made sure to come prepared. I was active on social media and arranged meetings with some PT Twitter followers, which helped solidify my collegial relationships. Hanging out with my new friends led to being introduced to other prominent members in the field.
Social media can ease the challenge of networking. Engaging with people prior to a face-to-face meeting facilitates conversation and promotes approachability. Prior to CSM in 2015, I sent a direct message on Twitter to the CEO of a PT company asking if he would meet with me. I was interested in a job and wanted to know more about his company. He accepted, and we spent hours discussing my goals, the values and mission of the company and how I fit in with the culture. This networking strategy is how I landed my first and so far only PT job,, and this year, I presented a talk at CSM with the same CEO.
Learn the Latest Research in your Field
Professional conventions provide an opportunity to learn the most recent discoveries, agreements on best practices, and advice for clinician implementation. It can take up to a year for novel research to appear in a scientific journal. Poster sessions and platform presentations give scientists a chance to disseminate their findings more quickly.
For example, one scientist explained his study examining the effects of diabetes on total knee replacement recovery. He found that having diabetes leads to more complications following surgery, more persistent pain, and poorer functional outcomes. This information is useful. It emphasizes the importance of significant pre-habilitation and pain science education as intervention for the targeted population.
Disseminate your Work
As clinicians, we collect and analyze data daily. Conferences allow us to take these interesting cases or clinical studies to the regional or national stage. When I presented original research a few years ago, I was delighted in the number of people who visited my poster. I was presenting on the association between poor movement quality and participation in rotational sports (tennis, golf, baseball, etc.). Some physical therapists I admire asked me about my work, gave me career advice and discussed clinical application. I even received an award for my poster at one conference! Presenting my research has given me opportunities to collaborate with other scientists in studying professional dress in healthcare.
Become a Better Healthcare Provider
Sessions at conferences can vary from clinical topics to leadership to management issues to compliance practices. Attending a variety of talks allows the clinician to experience a breadth of subjects. Many times, speakers disclose ways attendees can immediately apply their objectives. For example, our talk’s action items included tips for mentoring and motivating employees. Immediate application allows clinicians to provide evidence-based, patient-centered care.
Over the years, I have attended dozens of conferences, which have been exceptionally valuable in my professional development. My most recent presentation at CSM spurred collaboration with a variety of clinicians, mentorship amongst friends, and continued passion for my profession. The long-term benefits from attending professional meetings can pay dividends to your career.