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Scholarships and Peer Recruitment Help Attract Minorities into the Physical Therapy Profession

By Kimmi Edwards, DPT

2016 APTA Minority Scholarship winner Kimmi Edwards, DPT, calls for expanded support of minority PT students to diversify the profession.2016 APTA Minority Scholarship winner Kimmi Edwards, DPT, calls for expanded support of minority PT students to diversify the profession.

Do you have strong feelngs about whether minorities are well represented or recruited into the physical therapy (PT) profession?

Physical therapy began as a predominantly woman-dominated profession. Now men are entering at a faster rate than other minority populations in our midst.

However, this historically predominantly white profession has seen only a minute increase of minorities now accepting this profession as a career path.

“Why?” I wondered. When you go into a black society and ask the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  The answer is often a lawyer, engineer, doctor, or professional athlete.

Rarely do you hear “an occupational therapist,” “a physical therapist,” or even “a speech therapist.”  Society at large is still uneducated about our profession or has any idea how successful, rewarding, and happy our careers are!

Do we as professionals and future professionals do a great job of reaching out to communities and advocating for this profession? What makes these boys and girls want to become a lawyer, doctor, or professional athlete? Is it because they don’t know the PT profession exists?

Possibly. There is certainly a huge gap in student applicants for physical therapy programs when it comes to minorities, which led to my decision to survey Alabama PT schools about minority attendance. I am not from Alabama, but I recently graduated with my Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) from Alabama State University.

As of May 10, 2016, there are four DPT schools in Alabama with 404 physical therapy students, 56 being minorities (13.86%). Taking these numbers into consideration, I question whether other states have similar statistics? What can be done to improve them? More importantly, what can I do about that change?

Thankfully, the profession does offer some opportunities such as American Physical Therapy Association Minority Scholarships that support the success of minorities. Scholarships of this nature can help not only attract future diverse PT students into our field for the extensive good we do for our patients, but also communicate that physical therapy has a welcoming professional culture for minorities.

Current minority PTs, in particular, should continue their tremendous encouragement and recruitment of other minorities. If boys and girls in underserved communities can see and hear firsthand about our profession and its success from minorities they can identify with, more progress can be made toward attracting them to PT career options.

I want to make minority scholarships better known to students by referring them to learn the latest on APTA’s Honors and Awards web section. Students can submit applications or be nominated—as can professors–every September, but PT and physical therapy assistant students must in their final year of PT education.

In 2016, eight PT students and four PTAs students in the United States won scholarships supported by the Minority Scholarship Fund, to which the Section on Women’s Health-APTA recently donated $500. Anyone else interested in donating to the Minority Scholarship Award may contact Johnette Meadows, johnettemeadows@apta.org.

Together, we all can change the physical therapy profession, particularly in men’s and women’s health, to better reflect the diversity of the patients we serve.

Author: Kimmi Edwards, DPT, is a 2016 APTA Minority Scholarship winner and Section member. She can be reached at 

kimmiedwards.pt@gmail.com. Note: The statistics above apply only to PT, not PTA, programs in Alabama state universities.

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