For those of you who attended National Student Conclave last month we think you would agree it was a great experience. The three of us each had different experiences but all agree on one thing: it was worth the time and investment.
Brian: I thought NSC was awesome! Some of the opportunities at NSC are simply not offered in school and being my last year I was able to learn a lot of valuable information. For one, I thought the resume reviews were great. They were conducted by physical therapists and that helped a lot because I know now how to tailor my resume toward PT jobs/residencies better. Then there were the education sessions. For those of you that are into sports I think you'll agree that Erik was a great speaker and had some good advice. I really liked how he showed his journey but more importantly his mistakes. Additionally, he explained the CSCS the best I've seen and the reasons it opens doors as well as why it is for those who want to get into sports physical therapy. I also went to the Owning your own Private Practice session and learned a ton while networking with private practice owners at their reception that night. Another thing I did at NSC was attend the early riser breakfast and listen to the APTA president, Paul Rockar, speak. I personally have been an APTA member for quite some time but Paul really spoke to some issues that are very relevant to our future as physical therapists. I know my colleagues Chris and Jim caught the bug that weekend and will become APTA members soon, which is a great thing. Finally, I went to both the residency & fellowship and interviewing tips sessions. The residency session was helpful for those who don't know much about the benefits and application process and I would recommend going to that one next year for the 1st and 2nd year students reading this. My experience was invaluable and I really enjoyed making all the contacts and networking that went on at NSC. I highly recommend going to NSC to anyone that may be interested next year!
Chris: It was a long 14 hour drive from St. Louis to Arlington, but it was definitely worth it. Going into NSC, I admit I was not as excited as I was for CSM, because the classes were not focused on the clinical aspect as much; however, I cannot say enough about the experience I had there. The first morning I had my resume reviewed. We were fortunate in that the prior week, we had our resumes reviewed briefly as well by our school's Career Services. Getting a review from a PT perspective was extremely important. I learned some tips I had not heard previously and discovered how to modify my resume to what the employers of PT are seeking. I too went to the ortho and sports classes. It was interesting to hear an alternative route to building your name in the sports field. As I learned in the residency course, one of the key advantages to attending a sports residency is the networking that leads to high level careers. Erik explained his non-traditional path that shows it isn't necessary (although it is extremely beneficial!). I saw a similar pattern at the Private Practice session. With a couple of different speakers, we were able to hear various options for building a private practice, beginning from as little as 6 months to as much as over a decade of experience. The exhibit hall left the decision up to the attendees on how to mold your own experience. There were services like employers, residencies, fellowships, APTA section booths, and more. I probably made my way through almost every booth to hear what they had to offer, especially the employers and residencies/fellowships. I viewed each of these as a short "interview." They are as much as you make of them. Not only do you get to have your questions answered about the organization but you can practice your own interviewing skills. I was fortunate to have one of the residencies present to which I'm applying. Being able to speak one-on-one with one of the faculty helped to confirm my decision for selecting that specific residency. One of my highlights of NSC, however, was meeting Dr. Flynn. Dr. Flynn has been a significant contributor to the field of physical therapy, especially with his text on evidence-based examination. Being able to speak with one of the leaders in our field for a few minutes was extremely rewarding. If you have the time, I suggest attending NSC earlier in your PT education, as it can help guide the rest of your education and career.
NSC helps rejuvenate your passion for Physical Therapy. The combination of meeting new people, learning new information, and being surrounded by hundreds of other student therapists reminds you why you first entered the profession. One of my favorite aspects of the National Student Conclave was getting to know more student PT's from all over the country. Hearing other people's experiences and interests, allows me to be more creative in my own clinical practice. It was great to see so much unity among us young professionals. Additionally, I enjoyed the specialty educational presentations. I attended the lectures on Aquatic Therapy, Neurology, and Orthopedics. Aquatic therapy has always been an interest of mine, so hearing about the diagnosis' commonly seen, intervention selection, and reviewing the evidence was very beneficial. The speaker, Beth Patterson, discussed utilizing buoyancy and hydrostatic pressure in your favor & special manual techniques that can be performed in the water. She concluded by mentioning the incredible business potential behind opening an aquatic practice. After aquatics, I attended the Orthopedic lecture which discussed the management of special spinal conditions and low back pain in the elderly. She opened the lecture with an influencing introduction about getting involved in the APTA and to joining specialty sections. By joining a specialty, you will find an area of PT that you enjoy and be surrounded by other colleagues who have the same passion as you. In conclusion, I highly recommend attending the National Student Conclave. The experience reminds you that PT is greater than what is being taught at your school alone. It is a worldwide profession that thrives on working together towards a common good.
Going into college, I was fortunate in that I already knew what I wanted to be - a physical therapist. With my career path chosen, I elected to enter into the 6-year PT program at my school. While I knew I wanted to be a physical therapist, the only experience I had in the field was as a patient at an outpatient ortho clinic and volunteering at a VA. I had no idea what physical therapy entailed in the hospital setting.
Following my freshman year of undergrad, I was fortunate to acquire a job as a physical therapy aide at a hospital near my hometown. Being in a hospital setting and handling patients regularly was definitely a nerve-wracking experience at that age. I remember going into the ICU my first couple weeks terrified of touching the patient or any of the cords! Over time I became more comfortable working with various patients. As I became more experienced, I became more and more familiar with medical terminology, transferring patients, and the hospital setting in general. When it came to courses focused on the inpatient setting, it definitely made the material easier, but probably the most beneficial aspect of the position was an alternative perspective gained from working in that setting. The way we are taught in school is not always the way techniques are performed in the clinic! For example, while it is essentially universally understood that there should always be two practitioners present while performing stairs, my school was different in that it taught us the therapist should stand behind the patient on the stairs. I realize this is almost unheard of with other practitioners. One of my teachers reinforced it in me specifically by having me try to guard her, while standing in front on the stairs. She purposely had her legs give out and slid down several stairs! The point is working with therapists outside my classroom setting has made me realize why some practitioners prefer their methods. Bringing in multiple perspectives can really help to develop your own style of care.
The early exposure to inpatient care also had an impact on my first inpatient acute care rotation. With having observed or performed many techniques over the prior 4 years, I had little hesitation in treating patients. While I recognize that inpatient PT does not require extensive utilization of specific techniques, it definitely has a high-level of clinical reasoning required. Knowing how to pick out the important material in a chart review, which lines you can disconnect, developing discharge plans and more can only become more efficient through experience.
I think what's important to take away from this is to always keep an eye or ear out for advice from PTs in all settings. You never can hear too many opinions or methods on how they choose to practice. That is one of the reasons we started this website. While going on our initial clinicals, we were encountering examination procedures and treatment styles not exposed to us in school. If we can continue to develop lines of communication through various schools and parts of the country, we can all benefit. Hopefully, it will lead to research that enables physical therapists to become more highly-skilled practitioners at a higher rate!
James Heafner DPT, Chris Fox DPT, and Brian Schwabe DPT, CSCS are recent graduates of Saint Louis University's Program in Physical Therapy.