APTA Annual Conf. - Student Perspective | Jan 13, 2012

I recently had the opportunity to attend the APT A Annual Conference held in National Harbor, Maryland, this past June as a Student Usher. I had the most amazing experience I could have ever imagined. Not only were the people along the way incredible, but I learned so much more about physical therapy and the direction it's headed. I couldn't be happier to be along for the ride.


I was so nervous the first day, I have never flown solo before, so I knew this was going to be a huge growing experience for me, personally and professionally. Once I arrived at the Washington Dulles Airport, I grabbed my suitcase and headed to the hotel shuttle. I stepped outside and instantly started to sweat. The temperature in Grand Forks was a mere 55 degrees that morning and was 102 degrees with 80% humidity in the DC area! A couple from Nebraska, the husband had been in the field for 25 years, had asked what brought me to town and that they too were headed to the conference. They asked if I had a shuttle pass and I responded no, so they told me go in and get one. I left my suitcase and carry on right there with them, how naive and trusting was I with the first strangers I met on this trip! When I came back, they asked where I was from and they figured I had to be from the Midwest given how trusting I was to just leave my belongings with them, not knowing anything about them. We had about a 20 minute wait before the shuttle arrived and in that time the gentleman shared some of his stories of the changes he has seen and faced while on the job.

Once we arrived at the National Gaylord Resort, which was the site of the conference, I became acquainted with my roommates: Erika from Duke University, Amy from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Sheila from the University of Michigan-Flint. Amy, Sheila, and myself attended the conference as student ushers and Erika was a representative for the Woman's Health sector. At supper, we watched the sunset along the Potomac River and discussed our backgrounds. It was quite fascinating to hear of all the different curriculums used, start/finish dates, duration of clinical rounds, and other information about our physical therapy programs.


There were two sessions already pre-determined for Student Usher Orientation. I was scheduled for the afternoon session which began at 2:30pm. This allowed for a little free time and my roommate Amy joined for some morning shopping. At orientation we introduced one another and familiarized ourselves with scanners that were being used for the first time at any APTA conference. As student ushers we had to stand and scan all the attendees for a particular session. This allowed for any attendee to pull up a transcript that laid out every session and total Continuing Education Units that he or she had accumulated throughout the conference. Once a session started, we had to wait a half hour and take a head count. This number would help the committees for the upcoming year as to which topics were most popular and able to provide enough chairs/space for a particular speaker.

Before we attended the conference, we were able to select our top five from sixteen different tracks. Examples are Issues with Aging, Imaging, Technology, Practice Issues etc. I was fortunate to scan the tracks that I had requested: Women's Health, Pediatrics, and Updates in Sports, Orthopedics, and Fitness. It was a great way for me to expand and learn a bit more about each sector that I already enjoyed.

After orientation, I attended the Preparation for Capitol Hill. Here we were briefed about bills that were to be presented to our Senators and House of Representative. These bills were the Repealing of the Therapy Cap, Student Loan Repayment, and Student Athletes and Concussions. We broke off into individual states, where I met with Kathy, Cindy, Heather, and Donna to represent North Dakota.

The Opening Ceremony was held after the preparation for Capitol Hill. APTA's President Scott Ward gave the Presidential Address. His speech was composed of four components that he felt were important for everyone to remember: 1) Don't settle 2) Strive for Excellence 3) your patient is not just ordinary, he/she is special and unique and 4) our line of work is not just ordinary, its extraordinarily interesting.

After the Presidential Address, Paul Begala, a CNN political analyst gave the Keynote Address. He was able to incorporate personal triumph and humor to depict how physical therapy has impacted his life as well as in his family's life. He urged us all to connect with our representatives on Capitol Hill through our own personal stories.


Everyone that attended the Capitol Hill event, needed to be at breakfast at 6am. We ate in groups by states and North Dakota was paired alongside Louisana. We had the privilege of having the oldest APTA member at our table. Once we arrived at Capitol Hill we had a rally where APTA President Scott Ward addressed the crowd, along with Senators Jon Tester(D-MT) and Roger Wicker (R-MS). Roughly 1000 PTs, PTAs, SPTs, and SPTAs gathered to speak to our Congress members and of the 1000 who attended, one third of those were students! The five of us from ND were able to meet and discuss our issues with three aides and met briefly with John Hoeven. This was a very kind gesture as he had another meeting scheduled at the same time. Plus he actually knew and had been through my home town of Palermo, ND!


Friday was jammed packed with exciting events, the exhibit hall, Oxford Debate, and the Student Meet and Greet. Sheila and I took time to walk through the Exhibit Hall where vendors from all over were under the same roof. I walked away with so much free stuff, ranging from pens, pencils, magnets, and even mini flash drives. Vendors also showcased new technology that is or will be up and coming in physical therapy.

At Student Usher Orientation, we all were given a teal t-shirt to wear on Friday to promote the Oxford Debate. The topic for this year's debate was Clinical Prediction Rules. Two panels, Pro-CPR and Con-CPR, made up of three speakers, took turns presenting their arguments. The crowd was given clappers upon entry and crowd participation would determine a winner. Audience members were also asked to move freely, to the sides which a person agreed with. It was a new spin on a debate where I gained valuable information about issues we face with the growth of our profession.

After the Debate, I took part in the Student Meet and Greet. At this event, APTA President Scott Ward, acknowledged the Distinguished Student Award winners and introduced the Student Assembly Board members. This event allowed for all the student ushers to be in the same room and get to know one another. We then were invited to an Irish Pub to dance the night away.


The conference entered its final day with a 1.5 mile run/walk in the morning, followed by a morning session, and ended with an afternoon session. I didn't want to fly into Grand Forks too late, so I decided to stay an extra night and leave early Sunday morning. This was one of the best decisions, I have ever made. A group of nine, student ushers and members of the Student Assembly Board, went back to the Capitol to do more sight-seeing, exchange stories, and made memories.


On the Shuttle to the airport, I had the privilege to learn about physical therapy issues in the Memphis area. A physical therapist explained how her situation and facility were unique because most of the workers were volunteers and all the equipment and assistive devices are made available through donations. The only stipulation for patients was that they could not have insurance to receive any form of treatment. This wasn't an issue for many, since the founder chose to open its doors in the most poverty stricken area in the US. I think it is safe to say that twenty dollars really is not a whole to lot to most people but to a patient in the Memphis area, twenty dollars is total cost for a physical therapy session. This business has now expanded to 13 other surrounding larger cities.

I am so grateful for my opportunity to have attended this past Annual Conference and to meet all the different people along the way. From the strangers who shared their stories to my new friends from all corners of the US, I can't express how each has impacted my life with the decision to go forward with physical therapy.

I would encourage every PT/PTA student to apply for a Student Usher position or to attend all the conferences that the APTA has to offer. At the annual conference there was only two other PTA student ushers. Attending any conference is a great way to get your name out into the therapy world and a great foundation for a person's voice to be heard. This year the National Student Conclave will be held in Minneapolis, October 21st-23rd, CSM will be held in Chicago in Feb, and the Annual Conference in Tampa, FL, in June.

Samantha Hollekim
Northland Community & Technical College