My “Grown-Up” National Student Conclave Experience

Posted By: Darla Bowen Cathcart, PhD Member Spotlight,

It was a real honor to represent the Section on Women’s Health exhibit booth at the National Student Conclave (NSC) in Omaha, NE, in October this year.  I sat alongside new graduate (and SoWH student SIG member) Abby Foster, and we had a fantastic time swapping ideas for the exhibit booth and SoWH SSIG mixer for next year, as well as just chatting and learning about one another as colleagues.

This was my very FIRST NSC, which is strange only because I am now 13 years out of PT school.  I am now a younger faculty member at University of Central Arkansas after practicing for 11 years in the clinic and teaching nationally and internationally to other PTs and PTAs in continuing education courses, and to PT students in PT school Women’s Health curricula as a guest lecturer.

I absolutely loved attending my very first NSC – and here’s my “Top 10” to express why . . . .

  1.  I love students!  I do!  I really really do!  I love the excitement, the passion, the openness to what is ahead in all their inquisitiveness.  No one has educated them into “reality” yet – they still believe they can do anything – and they’re right!  It gives me a great shot in the arm to witness their zest for their career passions and for life in general!
  2.  Meeting future Women’s Health and pelvic physical therapy practitioners and NETWORKING.  We had a steady stream of students stopping at our booth just soaking up all the info they could about this specialty, how to find a residency, how to get clinical experience as a student, how to pursue their dreams of medical mission trips, private practice, research, and on and on!  It was fun to have all these fantastic conversations and answer the questions of these young bright minds.  One of my big fat strengths is connectedness – I love to help connect people with people, to meet new people.  I had several opportunities to say, “Oh!  I know who you should talk to!”  I was able to email-intro or otherwise connect students to potential mentors or future colleagues in their areas of strong interest.
  3.  The Ignite Sessions.  These little talks of 15 seconds per slide times 20 slides kept the speakers on task and on fire!  From our APTA president encouraging students to “own” their profession, to APTA student assembly liaison rallying the profession to having a life-long stake in our patients’ lives, to a local pelvic health PT sharing her adventure into the unknown, and to the National Student Assembly President challenging his peers to jump in there and get involved already – these lightning quick speeches were engaging and inspiring!  They ignited us!
  4.  Plug for my UCA students.  OK, I have to talk about the students I teach every week.  They got fired up being at NSC!  They signed our university up for the Pittsburgh-Marquette Challenge, made friends in other states and programs, attended programming, discussed how they could get involved on a national/state/local level – basically, got really excited about being involved!  I watched them network like Bill Clinton and soak up the entire event with enthusiasm, and I have watched that excitement continue back home.  Good, good stuff!
  5.  Watching organic leadership in action.  Leaders are both born and developed.  Watching these young professionals in action who “get it” – who get why they need to be involved and engaged in their profession and national organization  – made me realize we have plenty of leaders coming up the ranks to grow our profession even further!
  6.  The SoWH Student SIG Mixer.  Abby and I met up with a handful of students from the SoWH student SIG and students who were interested in learning more about women’s health PT and the SIG.  Sometimes having a large group  is great for networking.  However, I loved having this small intimate group on my last night at NSC to really spend time talking about a variety of issues relating to women’s health, student/faculty perspectives, and our favorite kinds of beer.   (Hey, we have our priorities straight.)
  7.  PT Pub Night – NSC version!  With one of our UCA students having spear-headed PT Pub Night here in central Arkansas, attending PT Pub Night at a national event just reminded me how connected we all really are!  As PT/PTAs, as professionals, as humans.  We are a professional group that performs most optimally when collaborating with each other – ranging from across the same PT gym to across the nation.
  8. Reconnecting with Sharon Dunn.  OK yes, giant name drop there (ouch! My toes!).  But you see, Sharon Dunn was my program chair when I was a PT student at LSU back from 2000-2002.  To us students, she was a wonderful chair – embodying the Louisiana value of community – and we as PT students at LSU felt like our own little community, being nurtured, supported, and loved by our faculty.  I saw this same type of community attitude as students connected with their peers and future colleagues.
  9. Having my old chair (yes, Sharon) tell stories to my students.  Talk about the circle of life.  It felt a bit like an out-of-body experience to hear my chair telling stories about my class to the students I now teach – I think they now have a better understanding of my quirky Louisiana ways!  And the fact that my chair is now the APTA President just added a fantastically surreal component to this 15-minute exchange.
  10. And last but not least, the big slide in downtown Omaha, NE.  OK, so my third year student (Eric) who was in attendance teased the rest of us for calling it a really big slide.  I suppose most of us from the Arkansas-Louisiana part of the country are easily impressed and amused.  Nonetheless, it was fun to slide down that big stainless steel contraption a few times, even if my blue jeans did cause me to get a little stuck about 2/3 of the way down!

Looking forward to NSC 2016 in Miami, FL!  I hope I see or meet you there

Darla Cathcart, PT, DPT, CLT, WCS is the Director of Education for SoWH. A new resident of Conway, AR, she is fulfilling her lifelong passion for teaching as an instructor in the PT Program at University of Central Arkansas. She is pursuing a PhD in neurobiology to help research & find solutions for women with chronic pelvic pain. She loves her 7-year-old twin boys, Basset hound and Jack Russel, craft beer, good chocolate and good ice cream.  She runs and lifts weights to balance out those last three.