Get Ready for IMPACT: Leadership Conference Goes Virtual, Open to All SACA Members

ACA Blogs caught up with Alli Totzke, national chair of the Student ACA (SACA), to find out how plans are going for this year’s Leadership Conference, scheduled for Sept. 11-12 online, and to learn what SACA members are doing to adapt and continue their outreach and social activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the theme of this year’s Leadership Conference (LC) and why was it chosen?

This year’s theme is IMPACT. Our chair, Ashley Mauer, selected it based on the impact that these conferences have had on her throughout her time as a student. To me, it means more than that. SACA Leadership Conferences have left such an impact on the direction I hope to take my professional career. In 2018, this was the first professional conference I ever attended (it’s the first for many students, for that matter) and it left me wanting to strive for more. The the leadership conferences have left me with the desire to know more about what other educational opportunities exist, what other students are working toward, and how I can be the best future physician I can be.

This year the Leadership Conference will be entirely virtual. What changes can people expect?

I’m actually really excited to see how the Leadership Conference adapts this year. It’s always been an evolving conference, which makes it all the more engaging. This year, with it being virtual, we have the opportunity to allow in many more attendees. Traditionally, LC has been an exclusive experience for SACA chapter leadership. This year, it’s open to any SACA member. I can’t wait to see, in a few months, how this year’s conference shapes our future leaders and who it inspires to get more involved. LC usually is a turning point for many SACA members; it’s a place where you find something that you are passionate about and begin to see some of the outlets where you can utilize that passion.

With the conference being virtual, we’ve had some unique opportunities to reach out to speakers and enable them to engage with attendees in real time. The conferencing platform we will use, Zoom Conferences, lets presenters post polls and ask questions in real time and get results instantaneously. Having many individual voices shape the conference in this way will be a tremendous thing to see.

If a student has never been to a leadership conference, what reasons would you give them to give it a try?

One of my usual reasons for recommending LC is that it is more intimate than Engage. It makes meeting new, excited minds more approachable. This year will be no different, as we will still have social activities after the scheduled conference events. I’d also encourage anyone to attend who is interested in learning about options available to students and post-graduates outside of “just practicing.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of hard work to practice chiropractic, but something I’ve observed in many of my colleagues is a desire to work with their communities and IMPACT local public health. LC gives you some great ideas on how to start that outreach as a student and grow it into practice.

What are some of your best memories from SACA Leadership Conferences?

My favorite memory is actually something that happens leading up to the conference: the submission of applications for the SACA Awards. It’s a way to recognize your fellow leaders for all their hard work. Even though we all do it selflessly, it is important to recognize those who stand out. When the awards are announced, I get excited and emotional hearing about everyone’s hard work and accomplishments.

Last year, I had the opportunity to chair the Leadership Conference myself. It was a unique experience that helped me grow as a leader, which is another reason why I cherish this conference.

Have any messages from speakers you’ve heard over the years really stuck with you?

This is such a hard question! We’ve had so many incredible speakers over the past two years of Leadership Conference that it’s really hard to pick just one or two that stand out. I am looking forward to our keynote speaker this year, Dr. Louis Sportelli. I had the opportunity to talk with him about his address as we went through the speaker selection process, and from just one phone call with him I felt inspired and instantly excited about what this year’s conference will bring. To say he brings a wealth of knowledge is an understatement, so he is definitely one of the speakers I hope students will check out. We even have a question-and-answer session scheduled after Dr. Sportelli’s address.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic be addressed at all during the event this year?

We’ve given speakers the freedom to address the pandemic as they’d like. For some, I think it is kind of an elephant in the room situation, where we know it’s there, and we don’t really want to talk about it anymore. However, it’s important to address it in some capacity because it has impacted all of us personally and professionally. I hope that everyone can use this as an opportunity of growth and challenge themselves in ways that they have not done before, conference aside.

How is SACA adapting overall to the pandemic? 

I cannot express how impressed I am with SACA. They have taken a challenging experience and turned it into an opportunity for growth and innovation. As a national organization, a lot of what we do and how we work together already takes place online, but chapters have thrived by creating a number of virtual speaking events, game nights, and watch parties to build connections. They really haven’t missed a beat through all this adversity.

Our committee leadership, in particular, has been so innovative in finding ways to keep everyone challenged. For example, our membership committee wanted to hold a membership drive. This motivated chapters and challenged them to be creative in how they reach out and build new membership without the opportunity to meet face to face. Our communications committee has created continuous posts on our social media pages with engagements up exponentially in April and May. They even found a way to delicately address that it is okay to struggle with sheltering-in-place orders and the many other changes to our daily life caused by the pandemic. The committee leadership has challenged individuals and chapters in all the best ways possible; I couldn’t ask for a better group of young leaders to work with.