Written by Victoria Patton, SPT Class of 2023
Black History Month is time for us (yes, all of us) to recognize, reflect, and rejoice on Black histories – to go beyond the conversations of racism and slavery, and to highlight the many Black leaders and accomplishments in this world.
For me, this month provides an opportunity to weigh in on something that is imperative to me as a Black woman in the field of physical therapy – the importance of representation.
I first became cognizant of the fact that representation was lacking after I experienced several encounters within the healthcare system that left me feeling unheard, overlooked, and belittled. I couldn’t help but wonder if my concerns would also be dismissed by a healthcare professional of color… then it dawned on me when I could not recall one instance during this time where I had a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Person of Color) healthcare provider. Interestingly enough, there have been studies that indicate that racial similarity between patient and provider is associated with higher ratings of trust, satisfaction, and even with intention to adhere to medical advice, even in physical therapy. It was clear in my eyes that representation mattered.
When I began to apply to physical therapy programs, I sat in interview rooms with many folks who were certainly brilliant, yet none of them fell under the diversity category that so many programs yearned for. But this was not a problem for just certain physical therapy programs but all of them. In 2019, African Americans made up 7.1% of US citizens who earned Doctoral degrees. In other recent data, it was shown that less than 4% of physical therapists are African American. On top of that, a receipt campaign found that only 3.1% of Black women are recipients of Doctoral degrees.
Now, I am no expert in math or statistics, but I don’t have to be to understand that my odds were never great to begin with. But it’s exactly these odds that fuel the passion I have for diversity, equity, and inclusion work; that fills me with gratitude to be a part of a program that supports my voice; and that inspires me to work that much harder in ensuring that the new generation of Black physical therapists reflect and represent our ever-diversifying society.
I want to also ensure that we acknowledge the Black pioneers that first began to pave the way for not only physical therapists, but a myriad of health professionals. I also want to acknowledge the efforts that so many individuals and organizations have put into making change in this field. Whether it be community-driven initiatives, advocacy in practice, or educating within the curriculum – your work does not go unnoticed. It is vital that we all continue to raise awareness and amplify Black voices in the health care community and beyond. Other ways to support the Black community may look like raising awareness around the stigma of Black mental health, or efforts towards dismantling systemic health inequities, or beginning to look at problems from an intersectional lens and supporting folks with overlapping identities that are related systems of oppression, domination, and discrimination.
With that, I hope my passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion inspires you to take a moment to honor this month for my brothers and sisters.
To honor the hardships.
To honor how far we have come.
To honor the work ahead. As you take a moment to honor, take an additional moment to do the work – to learn, to listen, to utilize resources, to act. Take the first step in the walk towards making the change in not only this profession, but in this world. And even when you feel like your efforts won’t make a difference, I encourage you to remember that baby steps turn into miles.
- National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2019. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2018. Special Report NSF 20-301. Alexandria, VA. Available at https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf20301/
- African Americans Making Slow but Steady Progress in Doctoral Degree Awards. (2020, December 24). The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. https://www.jbhe.com/2020/12/african-americans-making-slow-but-steady-progress-in-doctoral-degree-awards/
- Anderson, Steven; Gianola, Morgan; Perry, Jenna; et al. “Clinician-Patient Racial/Ethnic Concordance Influences Racial/Ethnic Minority Pain: Evidence from Simulated Clinical Interactions.” Pain Medicine, November 2020.
- Physical Therapist Demographics and Statistics : Number Of Physical Therapists In The US. (2021, December 14). Zippia.Com. https://www.zippia.com/physical-therapist-jobs/demographics/