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I Finally Attended a CPTA Conference. Here's What Happened Next.

by Meredith Victor Castin

I'll admit it. I let my APTA membership lapse. In fact, I did it twice. The first time was a few years after I graduated from physical therapy school. The second time was this past summer.

Plus, I was one of those armchair critics, complaining that the APTA fights the wrong battles, while taking absolutely no action on my end. Sure, I have been to CSM several times, and have been marginally involved with a few local meetings over the years, but I still couldn't really get a grasp on how my $540 (including state dues) was helping my profession THAT much.

So I simply stopped paying dues and relinquished my membership.

I was uninformed, plain and simple

And, perhaps the most embarrassing part of this all, I wasn’t even aware that there was a difference between the PT-PAC (Physical Therapy Political Action Committee) and the APTA.

It took attending a California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA) conference to change my attitude about everything involving how I support the physical therapy profession, though.

Let me back up for a moment. You likely know more than I did. Like I said, I was a woefully uninformed person until this past weekend. But just in case you’re like me, I’ll break it down for ya :)

They complement each other, but they’re separate entities with separate purposes. And physical therapists owe it to themselves to explore them both because they’re both vital to our profession’s future.

The keynote speech

My paradigm shift in thinking began bright and early Saturday morning, with the keynote address by the CPTA (California Physical Therapy Association) president, Chris Powers, PT, PhD, FAPTA. His speech illuminated just how uninvolved many PTs are.

Guess how many physical therapists belong to the CPTA (membership in CPTA is required by any Californian who joins APTA, by the way). Roughly 20%.

And even fewer contribute to the PT-PAC.

Those are pretty abysmal numbers, considering we have such pervasive issues in physical therapy these days. Let’s face it. We’re facing increased costs of education, decreased reimbursements, and practitioner burnout.

And how can the APTA leaders know what we new grads feel are the most important issues, if we don’t belong to the organization and - I stress this part - if we don’t actually participate and make our voices heard?

Despite how it might seem at times, I can assure you that the APTA is always working to help our profession stand out amongst both the public - and other medical professionals.

Just a few of these actions include:

  • Spreading public awareness of physical therapy - CPTA’s marketing campaign, "Physical Therapists Improve the Way You Move," is plastered on buses and billboard, presenting our value in a mainstream way.
  • Advancing our education - The APTA works to advance our profession by developing residency, fellowship, and specialty education programs.
  • Career development and networking - From CEUs, to conferences, to local and statewide meetings, there are endless opportunities to develop relationships with other passionate PTs.
  • Practice tools - Shame on me for never taking advantage of the vast resources the APTA offers to help clinicians provide evidence-based care.

As I noted, I admittedly never took advantage of many of their career development, financial, or educational resources. Many of my PT Journal magazines sat in a stack, waiting months - if not years - to be read.

And I know I’m not alone. Dr. Powers admitted that he has given up on trying to get every physical therapy professional out there to join the APTA. He understands that finances may be a barrier, and that some therapists simply won’t ever feel the cost is worth the benefit, regardless of whether that’s the case.

Here are a few options to demonstrate professionalism, according to Dr. Powers:

  • Contribute to the PT-PAC
  • Contribute to your state’s PT Fund
  • Attend your state’s APTA-affiliated annual conference or the CSM annual conference
  • Participate in a PT legislative day or attend a home office legislative visit.

When I stepped into the lobby after the address, the energy was palpable. People were excited to be at the conference, which got me pretty excited, too!


In the lobby, I spoke with many different physical therapists. Two of them were back-to-back, and I found it amusing because they had almost the exact same name!

One is named Alan Lee, and the other is Allen Lee! Something about that name must make one enthusiastic about the PT profession :)

  • Alan Chong Lee, PT, DPT, PhD, CWS, GCS - Dr. Lee happens to be my former professor from University of St. Augustine. A wound care specialist, he has always been warm and friendly to me, from the time he taught me to the time that we worked together at Scripps Mercy. Following the conference, he promptly connected me with two other therapists with whom he felt I could collaborate. I’ve been in touch with both of them. Neither of those connections would have been forged if I had skipped the conference.
  • Allen Lee, PT - Mr. Lee is a physical therapist with over 25 years of advocacy behind him. He feels that it’s vital for PTs to contribute to the PT-PAC because, as he puts it, lawyers contribute to the bar association, so we should contribute to the APTA. Fair point.
  • Kimberley Bell, PT, DPT - Dr. Bell was my Professional Communications professor at USA, and I later took an incredible vestibular course with her. She’s the creator of The Bell Method, and she has crafted an incredible personal brand. I absolutely love being around her, and she and I are going to collaborate on her producing some resources for new grads interested in vestibular therapy!
  • Sarina Karwande, SPT- This Western University student physical therapist is so much fun, and she’s an absolute inspiration. She’s one of the geniuses (along with Aaron Bryce, SPT, who started "PT Awareness Mondays") behind the PT Advocacy Club (PTAC), a student group at Western University. I also had the pleasure of meeting several of her fun friends: Joyce, Lindy, Carlo, and Sarah. I’d love the chance to collaborate with these fine folks when they take the PT profession by storm as DPTs. Follow the PTAC on instagram!
  • Gail Bachman, PT, DPT - This woman is incredible. She’s an absolutely delightful person - a social butterfly who isn’t fake, and someone who deeply cares about our profession. Speaking with her, I was made aware of how uninformed I am as a PT. But she was so nice about it! I look forward to collaborating with her in the future for many other events!
  • Lindsay Russo, SPT - This fine lady was actually my very own student physical therapist when she was working at Keith Mahler's clinic in San Diego! She's talented, and I couldn't believe she was on her first rotation when she treated me. Anyone who wants an incredible PT better snatch her up when she graduates from Chapman University!

Where does a non-traditional physical therapist fit in?

As a physical therapist who took a non-traditional path, I have frequently bemoaned the fact that there aren’t many options for PTs who want to pursue non-clinical careers.

Ben Fung, of, has become a marketing consultant and career-advice powerhouse. Brett Kestenbaum is the co-founder of both NGPT and CovalentCareers, a career development platform for healthcare professionals.

We’re carving our own paths as we go.

But we HAVE to get involved and start networking with each other and helping each other to succeed, if we’re going to create the paths in the profession that don’t exist yet. We have to encourage other physical therapists to join the APTA and to actually get involved. It’s not about the money. It’s about the connections and the excitement, and the realization that other people DO care about the profession. It’s about giving back and it’s about being professional.

Courses and events

I attended several events at the conference. Adriaan Louw’s talk on Preoperative Neuroscience Education for Lumbar Radiculopathy was incredible. As it turns out, pain is based on the perception of threat. And if we, as PTs, can influence our patients’ perception of threat, we can dramatically improve their post-operative pain levels.

Dr. Louw’s infectious laughter, presentation chops, and fascinating research kept the audience enraptured for the entire lecture.

Here is something I’d like to share from the lecture, for anyone curious. According to Dr. Louw, patients really only want to know 4 things from their PTs:

  1. What is wrong with me? You might not know 100%, but if you have a hunch, be confident and share your suspicions with your patients.
  2. How long will it take for me to get better? Again, there’s no crystal ball. But focus on your patients’ function, not their pain, and give your best estimate.
  3. What can I do? Here’s where you can help, no matter what. Something is better than nothing. Even if it’s one postural adjustment, one stretch, or a single daily breathing exercise, enlighten your patients!
  4. What can you do for me? The best thing we can do as PTs is educate our patients on the nature of pain. We can help them help themselves.

The University of St. Augustine alumni lunch was inspiring. NGPT journalist, Sara Cates, and I have agreed to be the ambassadors for the San Marcos 2010 yellow class. That would never have happened if I didn’t attend the CPTA conference.

Poster presentations

But perhaps the most uplifting part of the weekend was the poster presentations. I met with one student, an effervescent woman named Jacklyn Taylor, SPT, from Fresno State University.

She was exuding excitement regarding her case study on a patient with an intramuscular hematoma and lupus nephritis. Her poster was called “Implementing Lab Values to Guide Physical Therapy Practice in Restoring Functional Mobility in an Individual With Lupus Nephritis.”

It was inspiring to meet with a student who is so passionate about increasing physical therapists’ use of lab values in our daily plans of care.

Attending the CPTA conference made me realize that the future of PT is these bright students, and simply being around them can help to inspire crusty old grads like myself :)


Frankly, I’ve always been a bit of a black sheep in the PT profession. I treated for five years, then shifted gears and went into running NGPT full-time. Attending CPTA’s annual conference made me feel proud of what i have to offer to the physical therapy community. The crowd was welcoming, and everyone I met was nice and eager to hear about what we do at NGPT.

And, OK. I'll admit something else. I may or may not get more involved with the organization. I might not make it to every conference or meeting. It might be tough to convince myself to part with $540 every year, when I still eat Top Ramen for lunch pretty frequently.

But I do have one thing, and that’s a renewed enthusiasm for my profession. And $20 dollars to contribute to the PT-PAC every year.

I bet you do, too. Please. Get involved.


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