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​Combined Sections Meeting: The Student Perspective

By: Michelle Stauffer, SPT

Second-Year students in front of Convention Center

As students, we are encouraged to engage with those in our future profession by attending the APTA’s Combined Sections Meeting (CSM). We hear about the many benefits of going to this conference, including learning about new research taking place in the physical therapy community, networking with students and clinicians that might be interested in a similar specialty, and trialing equipment in the exhibit hall that might be encountered in future clinical rotations. However, students can be easily overwhelmed at this conference and I would like to describe my experience in navigating CSM (CSM 2017 was held in San Antonio, Texas) as a second-year student.

            A key part of my plan while at CSM was nightly preparation for the next day’s events.  This included determining which lectures to attend, where to focus my time in the exhibit hall, and when to take mental health breaks. I broke down the exhibit hall times into job networking, residency/specialization networking, and trialing equipment. As a student with no specific area of interest yet, I broke each day into different sections and topics; in contrast, I know some classmates who only sought out specific lectures on their areas of interest. When deciding between lectures I utilized the CSM 2017 mobile app which provided me information on the speaker(s) and lecture description. Both my classmates and I enjoyed our varying paths and we would often text each other with alerts on interesting lectures.  The majority of the convention I spent separated from classmates which lends itself to networking with fellow students and clinicians. I can recall attending one of the sports platforms.  At the end of the session I introduced myself to a speaker, asked her a few questions about her research, and then received a business card to stay in touch. These strategies prevented me from becoming lost in what could have been chaotic in an extremely busy environment.      

            Social media is a great way to make the most of your time at CSM and was very prevalent at the conference this year. There was even educational programming dedicated to social media -  #socialPT. Multiple hashtags were used to connect social media posts with similar content (#APTACSM, #CUPTCSM2017, #CSM2017) and all provided me with connections to fellow students and clinicians and to interesting programming (the dry needling debate was one in particular). It is amazing how easy it was to share mutual ideas with the use of hashtags while listening to a lecture. A group of University of Colorado Physical Therapy (CU PT) students also provided live interaction during CSM through our Snapchat account (@CUPhysTher). This was a unique way for those not in attendance to tune into the action. Upon returning from CSM, I heard positive feedback about the Snapchat feed from faculty and fellow students.

            Crossing paths with faculty was an added bonus while in San Antonio. I remember thinking at one point, “I must be in a great lecture because more than one faculty are here!” I often felt faculty were more excited for the students’ presence at CSM than their own attendance. Seeing faculty and discussing lectures with them reminded me that as a future physical therapist I will not know all the answers, and I must continue to be a life-long learner. In addition, multiple faculty gave presentations during CSM, and the ones I attended humbled me. Their presentations reminded me of the talent present throughout the CU PT Program and CU Restore. Based on the packed rooms at these talks, I can only assume the general population at CSM agreed.

First-year students who went to CSM were a delight to see as well. When we would cross paths we would discuss the lecture we were attending next and sometimes go together. Also, second year students helped a few first years feel comfortable at after-hour networking opportunities hosted by job corporations at CSM. While many first years noted that they weren’t ready to discuss jobs with the companies, they appreciated learning about the options available when ready. Speaking to other first-years they appreciated lectures providing treatment/intervention ideas in preparation for their first full-time clinical rotation in May. To enhance interclass relationships we would invite the younger class to join us in exploring San Antonio, which made for great memories.

The banner hanging above the convention center entrance read “Imagine. Discover. Grow.”, seen in the picture above.  This sums up my feelings about CSM and might as well be the slogan for future students who attend. CSM was everything and more than I imagined it to be. I discovered more about this profession than expected and grew tremendously in my professional development and educational knowledge. Attending this dynamic conference is a way for students to experience many different aspects of our profession and is an opportunity I would recommend to all future CU PT students.


First-year CU PT students in front of CSM poster next to exhibit hall