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Kristy Serrano - NSC Travel Grant Winner
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I wanted to start off by thanking the Florida Physical Therapy Association (FPTA) for providing both myself, Kristie Serrano, a second year DPT student from Florida International University and Brittany Tavares, a second year PTA student from Seminole State College, with the opportunity to travel to Portland this year to attend the 2017 National Student Conclave (NSC). Being the FPTA NSC grant recipient has been a great honor and I am thrilled to have a platform to share the incredible experiences and endless networking opportunities that were made possible through their support. For those who have not been to a National Student Conclave, it is an APTA conference that focuses on student-centered programming, which can include various topics about unorthodox career paths, residency programs, or common conditions physical therapists treat, as well as opportunities to connect with Special Interest Groups (SIGs) from different Sections (Early Professional, Geriatric, Neurology) or find information on hiring opportunities, promote student involvement by electing new student leaders to the APTA Student Assembly (SA), and many other useful resources. The conference is planned by a committee of students from around the country chosen and overseen by the APTA SA Board of Directors (BoD); made for students, by student leaders.

There are a few items I found especially helpful or wish I had while attending NSC. Two extremely useful conference tools were Twitter and the APTA Conference App. I used Twitter to find my roommates, participate in the NSC picture scavenger hunt, enter raffles, as well as ask questions during speaker sessions. Dr. Heather Cronin from Fox Rehabilitation was a prime example of a speaker encouraging the audience to tweet questions during her session and she would answer them as they trickled in. Her session was on how to make geriatric physical therapy fun and challenging for patients and that we need to be prepared for the silver tsunami of geriatric patients with the next generation. Twitter is huge in the physical therapy community, so if you don’t have an account, take the leap and join your #PTfam. The APTA Conference App was also a neat tool to connect with the students around me. They posted the scavenger hunt details on the app with different picture challenges like “find a student that graduates in the same year as you” and tweet the picture. This was a fun icebreaker to talk with new students and find connections I would have otherwise missed. They also posted the NSC schedule of events, room numbers and made it possible to vote for the incoming APTA SA BoD directly from my phone.

On the flip side, I wish I had brought business cards to save time throughout the networking process. There were certain moments that were missed opportunities because there wasn’t enough time to exchange information or I was rushing to a different session. I did meet a student who came up with an innovative and cost effective alternative to purchasing business cards. She printed her information on envelope labels to hand out like stickers! I am excited to use it for future conferences. If you have the chance to attend a conference, make sure you pace yourself! Conference fatigue is real and can sneak up on you. Take breaks, meditate, or take a walk before burning out.

There were many incredible speakers and take-away messages that I want to quickly share. Our Keynote speaker was Olympic athlete Alysia Montaño, who is known for competing in two USATF outdoor championships while 8- and 5- months pregnant. She spoke about the value of prehab, how physical therapy helped her compete and succeed during her pregnancies and how women are way more capable than we think we are. She highlighted the importance of being part of your patients dreams and not treating every patient the same. Dr. Jimmy McKay, creator of the popular podcast PT Pintcast, was a speaker during the “Unique Careers in PT” sessions as well as an Ignite speaker! His session focused on how he used his background as a rock radio DJ to create PT Pintcast, and he encouraged students to use their strengths to create positive change in the profession as well. We all have valuable skillsets beyond clinical work that could progress our profession forward. We just need to be creative and motivated to use our skills. If you’re interested in hearing his Ignite speech, I highly recommend listening to episode 260 “Communication is Currency” on PT Pintcast.

Another inspirational Ignite speaker was early professional Dr. Keaton Ray, who spoke on her struggle to finding her passion in the field. “If it’s not a Hell Yes, then it’s a Hell No!” She is a prime example of why it is important to reach outside of the classroom to make informed and guided decisions about the future. Her story helped me further appreciate being involved in my professional organization and utilizing the resources available. You will also find her Ignite speech on PT Pintcast episode 257! Last, but certainly not least, APTA President Sharon Dunn is always a bright light in any room. She presented on multiple occasions, but shared one resounding message, “You can't rely on your own brilliance. You have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.” She spoke on the importance of providing and seeking mentorship, why your first job out of graduate school matters, and how leadership should foster more leaders, not followers. We are a profession that is constantly learning, teaching and changing, and the best way to achieve our mission is by elevating together.

The exhibit hall is a magical place, where vendors, special interest groups, residency programs or hiring employers set up their displays, brochures and prizes! My first exhibit hall was overwhelming and a bit intimidating, but it is now my favorite place to network! The exhibit hall is open throughout much of the conference and can be a wealth of information depending on what you’re looking for. Personally, I wanted to learn more about the Women’s Health Special Interest Group and was thrilled to find out that I could start taking certain CEU courses during my third year as a student. I also won a $50 Whole Foods gift card for visiting and participating in the Marquette Challenge booth raffle on Twitter and a $300 Visa gift card for participating in the Enrich Financial Services focus group, which made my weekend a little sweeter. If you don’t know about Enrich, they recently partnered with the APTA to help with student financial concerns, such as loan repayment, budgeting, and general financial literacy. The focus group was their way to engage the student population and get feedback on their free portal on the APTA website. I intend to explore their website further and email them feedback on what I like and don’t like. They welcome anyone to do the same!

Near the middle of the exhibit hall was the APTA SA Student Neighborhood, where the SA BoD Candidates had printed profiles and would take time to mingle and campaign for their positions. All of the candidates had to interview twice to be slated earlier that year, campaign throughout the weekend, and then answer an interview question on stage with two other students running for the same position. I enjoyed meeting the student leaders and was energized by their passion for student membership, involvement and their respective positions. It was a privilege voting for such a qualified group and I look forward to the amazing work that the incoming BoD will accomplish this upcoming year. Another useful resource, besides attending a resume review, was being able to take a professional headshot during the conference. The line wasn’t long; I could position myself and review the picture in case I wasn’t satisfied. They recently made the pictures available and I plan to use it to update my professional profiles like LinkedIn and Twitter. One of the best surprises at the exhibit hall was running into Efosa Guobadia, the Co-Founder of Global PT Day of Service and CEO of Move Together. I attended a session at NSC last year where he was speaking and I greatly admire how he combines his passion for global outreach and physical therapy. NSC is what you make of it and learning the journey of other physical therapists can help shape your own.

Overall, my NSC conference experience made a lasting impact. I met an incredible group of lifelong friends that I am still in contact with today, I am progressing professionally with clarity and direction from the wisdom I’ve gained and I am more motivated than ever to continue being involved with student leadership opportunities. The conference motivated me to apply for an APTA Project Committee and Liaison position and as a long-term goal, I hope to run for an APTA SA BoD position.

As a shameless plug, I hope to pass down my position as the Secretary of the FPTA Student SIG during the FPTA Student Conclave in January. If there are any interested students wanting to commit to something outside of the classroom! Applications are due January 8th! Click here for more information.

Thank you again to the FPTA and grant donors for making this opportunity possible.

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