PT Power Hour and Reflections on Injustice in Healthcare

Haley Anderson, Regis DPT Student, Class of 2021

Recently, I put on a virtual webinar in an effort to address and combat racial disparities in the PT profession at patient, provider, and policy levels. With the help of classmates Johnny Herrera and Mandi Tse, I hosted this virtual conversation with a panel of 5 current clinicians to hear their perspectives on the topic. Students, faculty, and practicing clinicians from Colorado and other states were present and contributed with live questions.

With the murder of George Floyd, I was often reflecting upon my own complicity in systemic racism where I rarely backed up chirps on how terrible the disproportionate police murder of black and brown communities was with true meaningful action. What was originally going to be a general discussion on advocacy in PT became the PT Power Hour event I held to address medical racism in our profession. My intent was to gather varied voices from the profession to highlight action items we can take into our program, clinical rotations, and future jobs. The intent was not to be an all encompassing “how-to” on the subject. My biggest takeaway was that these conversations should be a constant thread in my professional and personal life going forward. Thank you to all who helped with the event, including Tara DiRocco who offered a ton of ideas and insight, as well as all who engaged. 

Lisa VanHoose, PhD, MPH, PT, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Oncologic Physical Therapy, Associate Professor and DPT Program Director at University of Louisiana Monroe

On August 12, 2018, racism killed me, literally.

I was teaching a course at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I had a gastrointestinal issue that required emergency medical attention. The surgical resident decided a computed tomography (CT) with contrast was needed to determine the best course of action. I was placed on a gurney and taken to the CT laboratory. I can still hear the voices even today. The conversation about prior leadership, President Obama, sprinkled with racial epithets. I remember praying that the voice I was hearing would not belong to the person responsible for my care. However, I was wrong because that voice was the person responsible for the contrast injection. The injection that would result in me having to be resuscitated twice. The injection almost took my life. The injection that some have postulated was given maybe too fast or improperly. The injection that I believe was laden with racism and hate. I am still unsure of why, but I often wonder if the technician didn’t see me. Maybe that person didn’t see a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a professor, or another human. Or maybe the technician did see me, a black person. A black person just like the President that was being called vile names before my procedure.

People wonder why I am so focused on diversity, inclusion, and racism in the physical therapy profession and the United States. I have seen the impact of a lack of diversity. I was the only black female in my class of 64 physical therapist students in 1995. I continue to see black physical therapists underrepresented in the profession.

I have felt firsthand the lack of inclusion with every assumption by a physical therapist student that I am a staff member or maybe even a fellow student. I have seen the shock when students ask if I’m really Dr. VanHoose. I know the feeling of people thinking that my only value is discussing diversity, equity or inclusion topics, serving on associated committees, and volunteering my services to these activities. I will not mince my words because each of these acts are rooted in racism. We can call it prejudice, bias, or any other term that makes people comfortable. However, at the end of the day it is racism, anti-black racism.

My first research project investigated the recruitment and retention of minority students in physical therapist training programs in 1995. I continue in that work today. I continue not because it is the only place that I have worth. No, I do it because it has the most worth and urgency yesterday and still today. The increased racial and ethnic diversification and inclusion within the physical therapy profession will make us a better profession. Research has already shown the increased productivity and performance of diverse teams.

As a physical therapy profession, we pride ourselves on our evidence based clinical practices. As lifelong learners, we will spend years refining our clinical reasoning skills. We look for the outliers and the unusual patterns. We have all learned about yellow and red flags in clinical practice. Why have we ignored the yellow and red flags of our collective social pathology? We have chosen apathy, avoidance, and ignorance and now we have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. The time is now for us to logically look at the racism within and beyond our profession.

We also provide services for racially and ethnically diverse clients. Those clients deserve the right to choose a clinician with racial and ethnic concordance. As the face of America changes, do we have the knowledge, skills, and attributes to care for Americans who demand truly individualized care? The very definition of racism and its related behaviors violate logical thinking. Racism introduces unusual patterns and practices that are in contradiction to our training, humanity and unity. We have read the stories from history and we are currently witnessing that racism can kill with COVID-19 disparities or police brutality. I have come back from the dead to personally say that racism has the potential to kill. All of us in healthcare took an oath to do no harm. Are you healing or killing with your words, actions, or for some inaction?

In solidarity as your sister in the profession, in humanity, and in spirit,

Haley Anderson

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