Transforming the Profession: Reflections of 2019 Minority Scholarship Award Recipients
The 2019 APTA Celebration of Diversity was a record-breaker, attracting some 360 attendees to honor this year's recipients of the APTA Minority Scholarship Awards. The awards recognize professional character and academic excellence among physical therapy students in their final year of an accredited program as well as faculty members pursuing postprofessional doctoral degrees.
[Editor's note: contributions to the APTA Minority Scholarship Fund are still being accepted. To learn more about the awards and make a donation, visit www.apta.org/HonorsandAwards/Scholarships/MinorityScholarship/.]
Recipients of the 2019 awards included:
- Abdul Banafa, PT, DPT, Mount St Mary's University–Los Angeles
- Pardis Esmaeili, PT, DPT, University of California–San Francisco
- Briana Sadé Harris, PT, DPT, University of Miami
- Ashley Lynn Wilson, PT, DPT, Nova Southeastern University
- Tiffany Maye, PT, DPT, Columbia University
- Brandon Nguyen, PT, DPT, University of Washington‐Seattle
- Michelle Diaz, PTA, Morton College
- Landon Luna, PTA, Kapiolani Community College
- Mildred Oligbo, PT, DPT, Kansas University Medical Center
- LD Woods, PT, DPT, Alabama State University
The Celebration of Diversity isn't your typical awards gathering, however. It's an opportunity to reinforce the importance of making the profession as diverse as the populations it serves, and a reminder of the transformational power of making a difference in the individual lives of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. To get a glimpse into what the scholarship program means at that level, #PTTransforms interviewed recipients Abdul Banafa, PT, DPT, Michelle Diaz, PTA, Briana Sadé Harris, PT, DPT, Brandon Nguyen, PT, DPT, and LD Woods, PT, DPT, about their goals, influences, and views on effective leadership.
#PTTRANSFORMS: What are your professional goals?
Banafa: My professional goals are to gain enough experience and confidence to open a clinic to serve my community, create opportunities for other minorities to be exposed to the profession of physical therapy, and the value of representation in physical therapy.
Diaz: I strive to help people achieve their goals and provide the best care to my patients and clients. I have an interest in geriatrics, neurological disorders, and aquatic therapy. I hope to specialize in an area in the future, as well as teach and share my knowledge with future students to help the community.
Harris: My professional goals are to have practiced physical therapy in every setting and with every population before I retire, mentor students as a clinical instructor, and express my passion for the profession of physical therapy and cultural competence as a lecturer or professor.
Nguyen: With my background in engineering and my growing knowledge of physical therapy, I am focused on facilitating educational opportunities for ethnic minorities, women, and persons with disabilities in STEM and health care fields. In this capacity, I aim to provide K-12 students with gateway opportunities to successfully participate in STEM and health care-related activities and, in turn, prepare a workforce that more accurately reflects the demographics of America. I also hope to follow in the footsteps of my mentors and continually build networks within rehabilitation and engineering—a collaboration that, I believe, is paramount in moving both professions forward.
Woods: My professional goals are three-fold: First, finish my PhD training. In addition, I would like to progress as an education researcher by publishing articles, engaging in multi-site projects, and disseminating experiences related to teaching and learning practices and diversity, equity, and inclusion within the physical therapy profession. Second, continue to progress in academia to a tenured position at my current institution. Third, continue to serve in leadership roles. As a member of a marginalized community, I feel it is my duty, honor, and privilege to provide my perspective and my voice to the profession.
#PTTRANSFORMS: How have your personal experiences and contributions influenced your professional goals?
Harris: My clinical instructor at Jackson South Community Hospital in Miami, Florida, solidified for me that I absolutely will be a clinical instructor throughout my career. She was the only CI that I ever had that shared my skin complexion, and she also happened to be the best clinical instructor out of all of my experiences. She did not sacrifice the quality of her work for any reason, she always went the extra mile, and she never once made me feel inadequate as a student learner.
Even though I am just a few months into my career as a physical therapist, I experience pure joy when talking with the students who come to shadow, or with a physical therapy technician whose desire is to get into PT school. I vividly remember when I was shadowing to get into school, and the awkwardness of watching the clinician, dying to ask a question but afraid that it might be a dumb question, or that I would annoy the therapist if I asked too many questions. I strive to create an environment for aspiring PT students to feel that they can ask me anything and everything.
Being able to teach at a physical therapy program, even if just as an annual guest speaker, is my absolute dream. I would truly enjoy the opportunity to inspire students with lectures about the many opportunities this field has to offer, or to discuss the infinite ways that a PT can optimize movement to improve the human experience.
Nguyen: Working with individuals from various walks of life has helped me become mindful of different backgrounds, cultures, abilities, and experiences. It may be impossible to engage with every form of diversity, but by integrating myself and others with different people, we can become better prepared to coexist in the diverse workforces of tomorrow.
Woods: My personal experience has had a direct correlation to my professional goals. My goal to attain a PhD and disseminate scholarly teaching and learning was birthed from my observation of the lack of academically terminally trained physical therapists who identify as minoritized individuals, and lack of effective teaching and learning practices within our academic programs. These observations also inspire my second goal, to continue to progress in academia. I feel I am in an optimal position to provide additional thoughts, perspectives, and ideas to help increase the inclusiveness of our profession. To have an impact in the current structure of our society, I need to have a seat at the table; for that to happen, I need to progress within academia. This feeds into my third goal, to continue within my leadership trajectory. The profession needs to increase the voice and presence of marginalized populations if the profession hopes to achieve its vision and mission. Within this context, I look forward to assisting the profession in bringing a voice that traditionally has not been heard.
#PTTRANSFORMS: How do you define leadership?
Diaz: Leadership is having the ability to guide and direct a group of people to achieve their goals while showing respect, compassion, and integrity.
Banafa: Leadership is many things, but most important is the ability to connect with the individuals in front of you. Inspiring people is very difficult and is truly something that is earned and must be maintained. The best leaders, in my mind, are people who bring people together, to bring out the best in them and inspire them to do good.
Nguyen: Leadership is about influencing those around you and cultivating a culture that empowers the full potential in others. Great leaders see more in us than what we see in ourselves, and they help us learn to see it, too.
Woods: I would argue that leadership varies based on the individual being led; ironically, within individuals, their leadership expectations change over time. I would define leadership as: actions, thoughts, perspectives, or guidance that place those who are being led in an optimal and advantageous position to achieve their spiritual, personal, or professional goals. Simply put, leadership is being a lightning rod to help people or an organization achieve their goals.
#PTTRANSFORMS: Who are your biggest professional inspirations?
Diaz: As I attended the Honors and Awards event this year, I was inspired by many physical therapists and physical therapist assistants who have contributed to the profession. I was especially inspired by the professors and directors from many accredited programs because of their dedication, commitment, and hard work. My professor, Dr F. Wedge, influenced me, and I learned a lot from her.
Banafa: My father, Ahmed Banafa, is my biggest professional inspiration. As an immigrant who built himself from the bottom, he continues to inspire me every day. Second, my professors, in particular Dr Alan Lee, and Dr Benjamin Cornell, were my biggest supporters, friends, advocates, and inspirations at Mount Saint Mary's University. They were truly the reason I started looking at obstacles as opportunity to do better versus a difficulty to move past.
Nguyen: My involvement in service, research, and leadership activities follows an example set forth by my mentors' success and enthusiasm, igniting my fiery excitement to advance our physical therapy profession. Being a recipient of the 2019 Minority Scholarship Award is an incredible honor, a recognition of my efforts in minority affairs, and a testament to all of my mentors who have invested their time and efforts in me.
Woods: My biggest professional inspiration is Jesus. For anyone who has a foundation in spirituality, Jesus set an example for forgiveness, situational attitude, and faith. If I walk along the path he set, I feel I can accomplish anything. Another professional inspiration is my mother. My mother is not a physical therapist or academician, but watching her pursue postsecondary education, while raising 2 kids and working full-time, laid a foundation of achievement and a mentality that I can accomplish anything I want. My final professional inspiration is my wife. My desire to set an example and lead my family pushes me to continue to put God first, family second, and my profession third.
APTA congratulates all recipients of this year's Minority Scholarship Awards, which are sponsored by the Minority Scholarship Fund and voluntary contributions. To learn more about the Minority Scholarship Awards and how you can contribute, visit www.apta.org/HonorsandAwards/Scholarships/MinorityScholarship/.