Just Do It: Submitting to Speak at Professional Conferences

By the end of 2023, I will have presented at seven professional conferences this year. SEVEN.

Here’s the thing.. before this year, I had a *very* real fear of public speaking and had never stepped on a stage to present my own material. Even the idea of submitting an outline to speak at a conference gave me anxiety, so much so that I once had to call a PA colleague to convince me it would be ok (they know who they are). But I KNEW I needed to do it to grow. I realized I had put a lot of time into growing my professional portfolio as a nonclinical PA and there was a gaping hole that really needed to close.

And now, here I am, preparing to speak at the FAPA Annual Symposium next week (come see me Friday August 4th at noon) and while I’m still a little nervous, I’m in a very different place than I was this time last year. I’m still very new and still have a lot to learn, but it was that first step, that first submission last year that set me on a “tour” this year and I’m SO glad I took that step.

My bias is that I think ALL PAs should consider speaking at a conference during their career.

I do plan to share all the details about how I chose my topic, what went into preparations, and why the heck I ended up with SEVEN presentations rather than the one I initially submitted. I also want to talk about how it can grow your nonclinical career and how it leads to other opportunities. But- in the interest of time (I’ve had SO many people ask me about submitting an outline) I wanted to share my outline with you before this year’s AAPA submission deadline of July 31st.

But What Should I Submit to Speak About?

I believe you should choose something you are passionate about and then pick the format. I LOVE talking about pediatric sepsis because I’ve led my own QI research on it and I’m comfortable with the literature that’s out there. There also happened to be a recent guideline update, so I took advantage and included it in my presentation.

Regarding formats, there are many different options when you submit to present at AAPA, the largest national PA conference. According to their call for presentations:

AAPA 2024 has different presentation options including hour-long lectures, hands-on workshops, and small, case-based interactive sessions. You can also submit a Fast-15 proposal to provide a quick, 15-minute guidelines update, with an additional 15 minutes for questions. Those with limited national speaking experience can submit a New to the Stage proposal and, if accepted, will be matched with a seasoned speaker to guide them through the faculty experience.

They do suggest you start with smaller conferences when possible- which I 100% agree with- but it’s not absolutely necessary and shouldn’t hold you back. You have PLENTY of time to develop an amazing presentation and practice it everywhere. I knew this and planned for it by presenting my lecture to PA students at Gannon University and found that my experience with webinars came in handy when it came to learning how to feel comfortable talking to an audience. I’m still a total rookie- but truly the more times you can get on a stage, the better prepared you’ll be for the next time.

I think there’s a lot of hesitation because people are uncertain about what exactly they need to include in the document itself. How much is too much? What’s too basic? Do I need to have EVERYTHING outlined almost a full year in advance? Can I change the outline as I build my presentation? How long does the presentation need to be?

An important thing to note is that you just have to submit an outline, not a full PowerPoint presentation at this stage. This means you have plenty of time to work out the details, cite references etc. And, my understanding is that you don’t have to have EVERYTHING outlined in great detail. AAPA gives pretty good recommendations on how to make your submission successful so I’d definitely review them and use them as a guide.

I’m still learning, so take my advice with a grain of salt, BUT I thought I’d share the hour-long CME outline that I submitted and was accepted to AAPA for the 2023 conference to help get you started (see below). This year, I’ve updated it to reflect what is actually in the presentation. It looks similar but a little more detailed. Fingers crossed they’ll accept it!

Example of a Conference Outline

Title: Emergency Management of Pediatric Sepsis

Presented by: Courtney Titus, MPAS, PA-C, CLSSGB

Short Description:

Recognition of sepsis in children can be difficult in the emergency setting yet studies continue to show that early recognition contributes to improved clinical outcomes, reducing morbidity and mortality. This presentation will review the 2020 pediatric guideline updates and pediatric sepsis collaborative recommendations contextualized for PAs working in emergency medicine or in a setting where pediatric specialists may not be readily available.


  • Describe common causative organisms of pediatric sepsis
  • Identify patients at risk for pediatric sepsis according to evidence-based standards of practice
  • Discuss treatment strategies for pediatric sepsis

Why is this topic important for PAs?

PAs who work in emergency medicine know the management of adult sepsis varies from pediatric patients, however, recent guidelines have updated the care and management of this vulnerable population. Having the most up-to-date and evidence-based clinical recommendations elevates patient care and can improve clinical outcomes.
Presentation Outline:

  • Objectives
  • Background of Sepsis recommendations for children
    • Prevalence & Impact
    • IPSO collaborative efforts
  • Define Pediatric Sepsis, Septic Shock, Sepsis associated Organ Dysfunction, Neonatal Sepsis
    • 2020 guideline update
  • Etiology
    • Common organisms based on age and risk factors
  • Pathophysiology & Clinical Manifestation
    • The role of the immune response
    • Presenting symptoms and exam findings
  • Evaluation & Diagnostic Workup
    • Blood cultures
    • Role of lactate
    • When to consider CSF studies
  • Clinical Management
    • Bundled treatment per IPSO including screening, order sets, blood cultures, timely antibiotics, fluid boluses
    • Antimicrobial therapy
      • Timeliness in septic shock vs sepsis-associated organ dysfunction
      • Empiric management vs targeted therapies
        • Multidrug management in immune-compromised patients
    • Fluid Bolus
      • Considerations of systems with and without intensive care capabilities
      • Monitoring cardiac output & signs of fluid overload
    • Antipyretics
    • Corticosteroids, Endocrine & Metabolic management
      • Hydrocortisone, insulin, calcium and levothyroxine
    • Vasoactive medications
      • Epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine
    • Intubation and ventilation
    • Corticosteroids, Endocrine & Metabolic management
      • Hydrocortisone, insulin, calcium and levothyroxine
    • Role of clinical guidelines in the management of septic patients

I hope this gives you the confidence to submit an outline! Maybe even two while you are at it! It is a topic I’ve been passionately talking about with friends, PA students, and other PA colleagues a LOT lately and I think I’ve actually convinced (read: badgered) a few people to submit themselves, and I’m so proud of them for doing so!

You’ve Convinced Me! Now What’s Next?

  • If you want to submit to speak at AAPA 2024, you have to move quickly as the deadline is July 31st! Go to their Call for Presentations Page and apply. You’ll need to answer some questions, then submit your outline and a CV so have that ready to go too.
  • If you want to speak at a state PA group, find them and ask when they ask for presenters. The timeframe might vary but assume somewhere between 8-10 months before the conference.
  • For other specialty types of conferences (I presented at the Pediatric Academic Society, Academic Pediatric Association and Association of Physician Assistants in Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery for example) you’ll want to go to their website and really just stalk the page until you find what you need. I’m also not above a DM in social media or LinkedIn to get a person to contact.
  • The next steps are a little more obvious
    • Create your PowerPoint, then practice, practice, and practice. Then practice again. Find someone who will listen to you so you know it like the back of your hand. My 9-year-old son, my dad, and my dog heard my Sepsis presentation at least twice before I’d ever presented it to PA students. Each time I presented to someone else I made changes to make the transitions a little smoother.
    • Once you’ve arranged the content well, then it’s time to practice your timing. Aim for 45-50 minutes so you can leave time for questions. No one likes when someone goes over an hour, especially the next speaker.

If you want more (very biased but also awesome) inspiration:

  • Go check out this article from a friend (who always delivers a fun and informative presentation) Harrison Reed: Four Ways Professional Conferences Can Help You Get Published. You might even see a familiar name in the article. I also really enjoyed the podcast episode he did with White Coat of the Round Table on the same topic.
  • My favorite AAPA roommate, former-neuro-now-reconstructive-surgery-PA-and-public-speaking-expert friend Brie Marks posted her experience from presenting on her topic of “Breast Reconstruction Post-Mastectomy”. It was an awesome talk, and I’m always inspired to see her so comfortable on a stage.
  • The amazing Annie Wildermuth talked about her experience here. I couldn’t believe she presented THREE times at AAPA 2023: Contract Negotiation, Emergency Medicine Literature Updates & Dermatology Emergencies. I LOVE her presentations- they are always SO informational, I feel like I need to take notes!

I do hope you will consider submitting this year, if not to AAPA then to others (state PA conferences, specialty conferences, etc). There are so many benefits (those honorariums can help offset travel costs), but for now, you just have to take that first step! Good luck and let me know how it goes!


Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.