Ep. 149 – Three Takeaways from the 2021 NLN Conference

After nearly a year & a half, I finally ventured out from my cave (as my husband calls it) to attend my first in-person conference.

This was my first NLN conference, so I don’t have prior experience with this organization. This conference was structured heavily around lab sessions. Much more hands-on time than traditional conferences I’ve been to – & after 3 years of practicing by myself, I was very excited for this experience.

The conference was ~4 days split between 10 labs, info sessions with vendors, & exhibit hall time. I was part of Betty Westbrook‘s team who taught labs on Pediatric Lymphedema. In total, we taught our lab 5 times, so each lab group was able to learn the same material.

After a whirlwind weekend & definitely not enough sleep, I walked away with a lot of great new knowledge & a fantastic review of skills that I’ve let slide over the past couple years since my CLT course. So in today’s episode, we’re covering some of the takeaways from the recent NLN 2021 Conference:

Back to basics

Certifications, advanced continuing ed classes, & fellowships are “sexy.” Useful, but oftentimes more “sexy” than anything. What I mean by that is, it feels cool or it looks cool to throw yourself into the more advanced information. Don’t worry, I do it too.

BUT. It’s critical that we remain grounded in the basic principles behind why we do something. As much as this was an “expert” level conference, it’s very apparent that we need opportunities to revisit the basics of lymphedema treatment. The same can be said for oncology rehab.

Maybe it’s cool to know the ins & outs of how a chemotherapy drug works, but it’s crucial that we understand the side effects of said chemo & how it affects our patients now & in the long run.

Moving forward, we need to be asking ourselves more often: why am I doing this? Am I doing this correctly & appropriately? Am I safe?

Don’t be afraid to try something different.

Initially, I was very apprehensive about the genital lymphedema lab. I’ve never treated genital lymphedema. Now let me be clear: I know for a fact, that some of my patients have had genital lymphedema. But I did not treat it. Bad Elise. I’ve generally been apprehensive about genital lymphedema all along.

But once we got started with the lab, Dr. Shelley DiCecco made me feel immediately at ease. Mainly because I couldn’t stop laughing. You see, Shelley crafted these edematous scrotums, penises, & vulvas out of fabric. And we took turns wearing them & then bandaging them. Now, I don’t know about the rest of the conference, but when our little instructors-only group was doing the lab, we were rolling with laughter. It helped to break the tension, & I actually walked away from that lab session feeling much more at ease regarding genital lymphedema.

I’m sure some people felt the same about our pediatric lymphedema lab. But by the end of each lab section, the students seemed to be really engaged & maybe even a little excited about treating children. That was really cool to see.

We can’t practice in a silo.

I’m really guilty of this. I’ve been practicing by myself for the past 3 years – since I graduated PT school. As some of you know, this was not the original plan, but this has been my reality.

And in practicing by myself, I’ve settled into my routine & I’m not challenged enough to really evaluate if what I’m doing works. I need to be better about that.

I really valued chatting with some of my previous podcast guests (Lisa Sylvestri, Angela Wicker-Ramos, & Megan Bradley – we’re all at different stages of our OncoPT practices, but their insight is invaluable to the work I’m trying to do as a clinician & a business owner.

So a lab-based conference was really beneficial for us. We get feedback from others on our techniques. We explain why we treat the way we do. We discuss treatment strategies with our colleagues. All of this makes us better clinicians.

You never know who you’ll meet.

Each of the conference presenters attended a pre-conference bootcamp, where we got to teach each other our lab content. It was really cool because we got a very behind-the-scenes, more individualized learning experience because our groups were so small, probably even more so than the actual conference itself. In doing so, we got to work very closely with some of the leaders in the lymphedema world.

For example, I got to nerd out with Karen Ashforth (you’ve probably read one of her lymphedema articles before) over a possible connection between Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), lymphatic disorders, mast cell activation syndrome, & Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS). Yes, definite nerd alert.

Beyond that, I finally got to meet some of YOU who have been listening to the podcast & taking my courses in person. THAT WAS SO COOL. Thank you so much to those of you who said hello – it means the world to me, & I’m so grateful to have you as colleagues.

Lastly, shout-out to Betty, Brittany, Amber, & Caryn, who made this a fantastic first experience as a conference presenter!

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