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Within the first 10 minutes of the inaugural Lynda D. Woodruff Lecture on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Physical Therapy, Greg Hicks, PT, PhD, FAPTA, takes stock of the effects of racial and ethnic disparities in health care, breaks down the demographic makeup of PTs and PT education programs, and arrives at an inescapable appraisal of where things stand.

The physical therapy profession, the data shows, is "a relatively homogenous group of professionals who exist in a health care system with significant issues related to unequal access and health care disparities based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and geographic location," Hicks said.

"And to date the PT profession as a whole has done very little to address this public health concern," Hicks added. "This is where we are right now."

That assessment sets the tone for a careful examination of not just the current state of the profession, but what isn't being done, what could be done, and how the landscape could change if goals were achieved.

The lecture, delivered on July 1 and available through APTA's website, was developed by the Physical Therapy Learning Institute with collaboration from APTA, the American Academy of Physical Therapy, the National Association of Black Physical Therapists, and the University of Delaware.

Titled "Who Do We Want to Be? Responsible Stewardship of Our Profession," Hicks' lecture is a carefully constructed, thoroughly researched dive into the ways the physical therapy profession could change its homogenous makeup through an all-out effort that must address inequities in not only physical therapist practice but in research and education. Hicks argues that a more diverse physical therapy workforce is the key to the profession's long-term sustainability, and to improved outcomes.

The data speaks for itself. Currently, Hicks explains, while the U.S. population is 60% white, 13% Black, and 18% Latino or Hispanic, APTA membership is 88.5% white, 1.5% black, and 2.5% Latino or Hispanic. And while other health profession education programs — most notably physician education — are showing improvement in the number of students from underrepresented minorities, physical therapy has actually regressed when it comes to Black DPT students, who made up 4.7% of the DPT student population in 2006-2007, compared with 3.4% in 2018-2019.

Hicks leads viewers through practical steps that could be taken throughout the profession, by institutions and individuals, from putting a greater emphasis on disparities-focused research, to making DPT program accreditation standards more explicit (and measurable) when it comes to increasing diversity, to individual PTs becoming more directly involved in community engagement and mentorship.

The profession is beginning to realize the gravity of its current state, according to Hicks. That's a good thing: but it's barely a start.

"The key is that we act on these ideas," Hicks says, "and stop with the lip service."

Hicks' lecture was followed up a week later with a live Q&A session that further explored the central themes of the presentation, well as the pressure points the profession faces as it moves toward greater diversity. A recording of that session is now available.

Read more about Lynda Woodruff and her legacy.

Access other APTA resources related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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