Valeriya Mikhailova at ISSWSH Conference
Valeriya Mikhailova at ISSWSH Conference

I knew that attending The International Society for the Study of Women’s Sexual Health (ISSWSH) Annual Conference was going to be an incredible experience—what I didn’t know was just how powerful of an addition it would be to my network, career plans, and education. I have been in the field of women’s health for a while, but the level of passion, dedication, and knowledge that I encountered at the ISSWSH conference showed me an entirely new level of women’s health and its future. The conference was for practitioners and clinicians across the spectrum of health, and included doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, therapists, and pelvic physical therapists.

The conference was held in Austin, Texas, and was a welcome reprieve from Boston’s harsh winter. When I arrived, I realized that I was one of the only students in attendance, and without any Boston College faculty or guide present it was up to me to meet the various leaders in the field, introduce myself, and create a connection leaving a positive impression. This proved to be an intimidating, yet very rewarding task, as I quickly connected with multiple leaders in the field and was acknowledged as a dedicated future practitioner rather than just a student.

Each day of the conference was filled with panel discussions, educational talks, presentations on new research and guidelines, as well as interactive learning experiences, diagnostic assistance, and new technology. Because of my focus on nursing, I was unsure of what to expect with so many different professionals in one place. What I realized was that the strengths and passions each professional brought to the educational talks and discussions could lead to a remarkable collaboration between the different professions. I was able to sit down with several physical therapists who went over new assessment guidelines in female pelvic health with me, simply because I was curious of the evolving role of pelvic physical therapy in women’s health and what role I could play in providing my patients with comprehensive care and evaluations during their annual exams. Doctors were also willing to spend time sharing information about the research done on diffuse pain disorders as it relates to women’s health diagnostic criteria. In addition, I attended a presentation called “Stump the Professor” where the leaders in the field were part of a panel presented with a unique case study. They could ask questions, consult the audience, incorporate their ideas and questions into their diagnostic thought-process, and try to make an interactive diagnosis. This panel was both incredibly interesting and informative, as the way that the information was presented and the level of contribution from the audience made the cases, symptoms, and treatments memorable.

I learned about cases, diagnoses, research, and treatment, but I also learned more about the challenges the field of women’s health is facing. Examples include a petition to change certain post-menopausal terminology to more accurately reflect a women’s state of health, the FDA pushback against women’s health medications, and the lack of universal guidelines for women’s health assessment among doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants.

Overall, it took time to process everything that I learned and to begin going through the resources I now have for my future practice. The connections I made at this conference have already played a role in my future. With only two months left until I graduate, the leaders of the conference were happy to offer networking opportunities with those geographically close to where I will be moving, and within a few days I had several connections set up with even more of the leading advocates, practitioners, and educators in the field—all in San Francisco, the place I will be moving back to upon graduation.

This was my first, but definitely not my last, ISSWSH conference. To be in the same space as so many individuals who are passionate and dedicated to the same specialty was empowering, inspirational, and further evidence that I am on the right path. I am incredibly excited to become a part of the ISSWSH community as I begin my journey as a women’s health nurse practitioner, and am already looking forward to next year’s conference!

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