Before attending the Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) conference, I was a little nervous. I did not know if I would understand the lectures that I had signed up to attend, which were being led by physical therapists, researchers, and doctors that are the best in their field. I questioned how I, as a student who has only completed a two week clinical, fit in a conference with all of those great minds. Surprisingly, as soon as I attended my first session, it was obvious that many of the sessions were overwhelmingly attended by students! I understood and plan on applying most of what I learned to my own future patients. Importantly, instead of just taking up a seat like I initially though I was doing, I contributed to discussions and asked questions that I may not have had the opportunity to ask otherwise.

One of the concepts I learned, that I may have the opportunity to apply as soon as I start my second clinical this May, is how to provide care for refugees and/or survivors of torture. Due to wars in Syria and other nations around the world, many are having to leave their home to find safety elsewhere. When a person is experiencing psychological distress such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression, they are more susceptible to experiencing pain and it will take them longer to recover. Refugees are very likely to be dealing with these psychological issues due to the trauma they may have experienced. Their stress can be further exacerbated by having to adjust to living in new country that has a completely different culture and they may or may not know the language. Importantly, as a healthcare provider, it is important to keep this in mind and to ask further questions to understand the individual’s current work and social environment. A session I attended at CSM focused on how to identify risk factors for these psychological conditions and what questionnaires to use to provide us with objective findings that we can then report back to the individual’s physician or a mental health professional. To screen for depression, these two questions “During the past month, have you often been bothered by feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?” and “During the past month, have you often been bothered by little interest or pleasure in doing things” work well. If a person answers yes to one of these questions, then you can have them complete the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS – 21) and refer them to a mental health professional if their scores are in the moderate or severe ranges. The questionnaire can be found at this link: https://www.cesphn.org.au/images/mental_health/Frequently_Used/Outcome_Tools/Dass21.pdf I know have a plan set on how to assess if someone might need referral to another health care provider for depression.

I hope to return next year after having completed most of my clinical experiences, so that I can discuss concepts that I had not before while completing my degree. I also hope to find more mentoring and job opportunities. I still do not know what area of physical therapy I want to specialize in so I was not able to take full advantage of this. Clearly, attending this conference was very beneficial to me and I would encourage all students to attend the conferences in their area of expertise!