Diversity in the profession: it’s up to us
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In June of this year, I flew to Boston, Massachusetts, to attend the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) House of Delegates (House) meeting. While there, I listened to delegates make decisions on issues that have the potential to greatly change the profession.
While all of the motions were thought-provoking and important to our profession, 1 in particular struck a chord with me.
This year, Arizona brought RC 11-17 to the house floor and charged APTA with increasing diversity in the profession. While the topic really moved me, it was even more profound because this motion started with student delegates.
Students in Arizona saw a need for diversity in their student population and acted on it. They brought their concerns to the Arizona delegation, who worked to get a motion to the House floor.
The motion was adopted with a majority vote of House delegates, and by June 2018, APTA and relevant stakeholders are charged with identifying and beginning the process of implementing best practice strategies in advancing diversity and inclusion within the profession.
What does this mean for us as students?
To answer this question, I think it's important to first talk about why diversity is important. This may seem like a no-brainer to some; however, our profession and student population currently lack diversity, so I feel that it is necessary to briefly address it.
At its core, diversity is simply a range of differences. It is often narrowly viewed as a race or gender issue. However, there are various other aspects of diversity, including socioeconomic class, age, sexual orientation, disability, veteran status, and family structure and composition that should be addressed as well.
In 2013, Yeowell conducted a qualitative research study investigating physical therapists' perceptions, views, and experiences of ethnic diversity in relation to the profession. Her research identified a lack of ethnic diversity within the profession, and she argued that this may result in a failure to meet our patients' needs.
Yeowell argues that it is necessary for the workforce to reflect the patient population it serves, so they are better able to understand and respond to patients' needs. Similarly, Cohen et al argue that achieving greater diversity will produce a more culturally competent workforce, improve access to high-quality care for the medically underserved, increase the breadth and depth of the United States' health-related research agenda, and expand the pool of medically trained executives and policymakers ready to take up leadership positions in the health care system of the future.
Back to the question: What does this mean for us as students? It means that we need to be proactive and initiate change. How do we do this? Well, the Arizona Chapter student assembly got us off to a great start. How can we continue what they started?
Talk to your chapter delegates!
If there's one thing I learned by attending the House, it's that our delegates want to hear from students, as they truly care what we think. Ask them how you can get involved in creating a more diverse student population.
Talk to the faculty and staff in the program that you're attending.
Again, our professors love to hear from students and care what we think. Ask them what measures they have taken to increase diversity in the student body. Does your university have admissions criteria that aims to increase student diversity? Do they use noncognitive traits during the admissions process?
Faculty, staff, and students at the University of Central Florida have conducted a case series report demonstrating that assessing noncognitive traits through admissions interviews can potentially alter the composition of an incoming class; however, almost half of current physical therapy programs do not assess these traits during interviews.
On that note…research!
Many of our programs require that we do a research project. I urge you to fill the gaps in the literature related to diversity in the physical therapy student body, and to investigate measures that we can take to increase diversity in all arenas.
Teach children in the underrepresented minority, gender, socioeconomic, etc, groups what physical therapy is and how they can be part of our profession.
It's not often you hear a child say "when I grow up, I want to be a physical therapist!"
Think about it: Most children or adolescents learn about physical therapy when they need it! However, there are many children who will grow up without the need for or access to our services, so they never gain that exposure to our wonderful profession.
It is important that we venture out into communities to educate people about who we are, what we do, and how they can follow in our footsteps, so that they feel empowered to pursue a career in physical therapy.
I would love to hear your ideas on increasing diversity of the student body and, ultimately, our profession. Please, connect with me on social media and share your thoughts!
Erica Parazo, SPT, is a student at the University of Central Florida. You can connect with Erica on Facebook and Twitter at @parazoPT.
Yeowell G. "Isn't it all whites?" Ethnic diversity and the physiotherapy profession. Physiotherapy. 2013;99(4):341–346.
Cohen JJ, Gabriel BA, Terrell C. The case for diversity in the health care workforce. Health Aff (Millwood). 2002;21(5):90–102.
Moya S, Richards J, Dawson N. Using interviews to assess non-cognitive traits in physical therapy admissions: a case report. Poster presented at: American Physical Therapy Association, Combined Sections Meeting; February 16-18, 2017; San Antonio, TX.