Imagine walking in from the rain and the cold, through a set of double doors and seeing a wave of people coming in and going out; individuals whizzing by you as they make their way to their designated location and having crowds of really smart and cool people all around you. Well, that was my experience on my first day heading into the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. for the 2019 Combined Sections Meeting, the nation’s largest physical therapy conference that is held every year. To say that attending this conference and then in some way having a small role in it, was overwhelming, is an understatement.
I was very fortunate and grateful to be chosen as the SoWH CSM Student Scholarship recipient and in turn was provided with the opportunity to attend CSM, pack my schedule with educational sessions of interest to me, be invited to the SoWH Gala and Awards Ceremony and sit in on the Business Meeting. Over the course of the three days, I had a strong feeling that this where I belong and this where I want to be. Like a kid in a candy store, I was able to go from one session to another and take in the pure knowledge of those who have spent years in this field and a field where I will soon join the ranks. Of course, there were some lessons learned along the way and I hope to share some major takeaways from my time at CSM and spending time with the SoWH:
- Get Uncomfortable. My social comfort level was really pushed during my time there. Wanting to start to make connections and network with future colleagues, I realized that I needed to just say yes. I had received an invite to an early morning networking breakfast on the first day hosted by a SoWH member. Without having even completed my registration to get my lanyard and bag, checking out the venue to make sure I knew where I was going or even really knowing anyone who would be there, I said yes to going to the breakfast. Despite being an introvert at heart and even more so in intimidating social settings, I somehow was able to talk and connect with a few individuals and cut past the small talk and do some real talk on other PTs’ careers and ask lots of questions.
- Come Prepared. There are so many moving parts to attending a conference, from the travel to figuring your lodging and getting food on the daily. I was very prepared in mapping out what sessions I wanted to attend months in advance, buying my airline tickets using my points and having a clear plan on where I was going to stay so I could save on the cost of a hotel or AirBnB. However, my search for daily sustenance was not on par with my other preparations for the trip. This is where I could have done a better job. I didn’t do much research beforehand on restaurants that were in the neighboring area and just assumed I would be able to find something healthy nearby or even at the conference. After a super long day and then a longer night where I was up late, finding healthy food was challenging. There was even one night where I had gone without dinner after attending two events that evening! So, do yourself a favor and scope out the area where the conference is going to be held and give yourself some good dining options so you are not stranded and limited to just what is nearby and available.
- Get out there and mingle! As a student scholarship awardee, I was privileged to be able to attend the awards gala and dinner, the SOWH business meeting and also volunteer at the SoWH booth. As I mentioned above, I am an introvert, but despite that perceived limitation I had the opportunity to meet women whom I have admired since starting PT school and finding my interest in women’s health. Why would I not take the opportunity to meet them and at least say hi and see what develops? I put myself out there, introduced myself and feel I have the beginnings of connections that I hope will bloom in the years to come. It was also a chance to speak to others about the SoWH and educate other PTs, PTAs and students about what the section does, what it can do for them and talk to them about the SoWH many course offerings. The chance to volunteer made me really feel that I was an important part of the SoWH and I look forward to many more opportunities to volunteer and get myself more involved.
- Carrie Pagliano’s address and opening for the business meeting was on intentionality. She did an amazing job, sharing her journey of motherhood, the struggles that came along with it and how she successfully overcame them through an outlet, that being Crossfit. She tied in what her intentions were for herself and the goals and fears that she wanted to face, one of them was being able to do box jumps and which she expertly demonstrated as part of her talk. She showed us all that she could accomplish that and more and then went on to discuss the many intentions for the SoWH and what intentionality can mean for each individual in the room. I walked away from that business meeting knowing that I had set an intention for myself which was to attend CSM and do more than just be a fly on the wall, which would have been my prior moda operandi. I set an intention to attend CSM, network, engage, learn and leave that weekend feeling inspired and ready to become a future agent of change in the field of women’s health. I feel that I have surely followed through with that intention.
So, you have read my story and I have offered some tips to help assist you, if and when, you decide to attend CSM. If you have the chance to attend CSM, do it. It is quite unlike any experience or conference that I have ever been to. Although as a student, it may seem overwhelming and intimidating to even consider attending CSM, the experience of being able to connect, learn and grow as a student and future clinician are incomparable. I am in deep gratitude for the SOWH for providing this wonderful opportunity to me and I look forward to seeing how I can continue to grow with this section. Hopefully, the takeaways from my experience will help guide you in your own experiences as you consider CSM 2020.