I recently visited Florida, where I spoke at the Florida Academy of Physician Assistants conference in Marco Island.

I’ve only been to Florida one other time (for an AAPA conference in Orlando), and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the state. It ended up being a very memorable trip, in terms of both the conference and the locale.

My wife and I flew from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale, and then rented a car to drive across the Everglades to Marco Island. It was a mind-blowing two-hour drive complete with a gator sighting in the first 30 minutes of the trip.

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When we stopped at a scenic viewpoint/boat ramp, my wife and I joked that the first person to see an alligator would get a dollar. At the boat ramp, we saw an amazing assortment of birds, including a crew of black vultures lined up along a rail that stared at us.

Sure enough, we spotted an alligator about 100 feet away in the canal. Later, we read that alligators are fond of hanging around boat ramps and we speculated that this may mean they’re social animals.

This alligator swam quietly around, only its head visible. It was moving slowly toward where we were, and both my wife and I freaked out, running back to the car to hightail it back on to what is called the “Alligator Alley” freeway.

The conference was very well organized, and I did two talks: one about safe opioid prescribing, and another about health disparities. Both talks hosted very engaged participants who had lots of insightful questions and were willing to share their own insights. I had a blast at both presentations, and I hope the talks some meaning to the attendees, too.

At the opiate prescribing meeting, I asked about Florida prescribing. PAs can’t write for any outpatient controlled substances, and this was an item of the highest urgency for the Florida academy. During the talk, some of the PAs noted how they deal with the law, which prompted academy leaders to come to the podium and clarify what the law says, and how the academy is addressing the issue.

This back-and-forth prompted a great mini Q&A session between the leaders and participants, and I was most pleased to have it take place during my presentation. I always try to get my talks to be interactive, and this was the best example I’ve seen of what can happen when audiences take part.

I’ve met some of the Florida academy leaders at the national AAPA conference and knew that the Florida academy has some bright and talented leaders. It was certainly made clear during the opioid discussion that this description also extends to the general academy membership.

It was pretty hot down there, and being from Seattle, my wife and I tend to wilt in the heat. But we made it into the ocean, which was the temperature of a warm bath, and enjoyed the way visitors seem to use the ocean more as a bath house than a place to swim. Crowds of people spoke a wide array of languages and stood around in circles with water to their chests and drinks in their hands.

The resort pool was an A+ area to people watch. Thirsty visitors only had to raise the flag on their lounge chair to summon a server. My wife and I may try a system like that at home!

On the drive back to Fort Lauderdale, we spent a few hours in Everglades City. It’s a must-see for any visitor. We ate some great fish at City Seafood, enjoyed the Museum of the Everglades, and then headed back to Fort Lauderdale for our flight home.

Hats off to the Florida Academy for a conference well done and to all the birds and reptiles of the Everglades for letting us see you doing your Florida thing.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is founder of Physician Assistants for Health Equity and is a clinician and manager at Evergreen Treatment Services in Seattle.