Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

“Intentionality Seeds Serendipity” – Brandon Johnson on his Journey to becoming our Program’s First Black Student Body President

February 4th, 2021

Greetings! I’m Brandon and I reign from the beautiful sun-drenched and immensely humid state of Florida. Born and raised in the capital city of Tallahassee, I received my Bachelors of Science in Applied Physiology and Kinesiology (APK) specializing in Fitness/Wellness as well as a Masters of Science in APK specializing in Human Performance from the University of Florida – Go Gators!

Growing up as an obese child, I found myself paving the way to an early grave. As a young African-American who was 200 pounds overweight, pre-diabetic, and suffering from debilitating sports injuries that required multiple surgeries and rehabilitation sessions throughout my teenage years, health and fitness became critically important. While recovering from a ruptured ACL, I contemplated what change I could make to shift my trajectory – one that would give me back control of my life and empower me to set a better course. That “change” was to embark on a weight-loss journey to help improve my overall wellness. In just one year, I successfully lost 150+ pounds while becoming passionate about fitness. What started as a platform to leverage my fitness journey to inspire and motivate others has strengthened my desire for exercise science, wellness, and rehabilitation. Working in the fitness industry for over a decade, I always valued holistic care. When working with clients, I began to realize that I was unable to provide this holistic care due to lacking a comprehensive education in rehabilitation exercise. This acted as the impetus for me to seek and attain higher education so that I could reach a wider breadth and depth of patients; thus, why I am endeavoring to attain a Doctorate of Physical Therapy.

I was considering Regis University during my first round of DPT applications (that’s right, I did not get in my first time applying) and when I was offered an interview spot off the waitlist, I did not hesitate to accept! What really crystallized my decision was the outstanding Interview Day experience. The faculty interactions were genuine in nature, and I could candidly tell that Regis was seeking humble and compassionate aspiring practitioners. Having no prior knowledge of the Jesuit Values, I found a deep resonance with what these values signified, as well as, Regis University’s mission to: “build a more just and humane world through transformative education at the frontiers of faith, reason, and culture.” My decision was made immediately after the Interview Day and I haven’t looked back since.

As a minority entering a field where we are not as represented, I find a deep passion in taking a leading role in providing culturally competent and sensitive care. My decision to run for Class President was solely to be a catalyst for cultural discernment to optimize the outcome for each individual in the profession of Physical Therapy or receiving care from a physical therapist. Additionally, I genuinely believe I can help our class reach our fullest potential in succeeding in our hopes of engendering true authenticity, advocacy, inclusion, and intersectionality for the profession of Physical Therapy. My view on leadership is not necessarily to just accomplish goals – although this is crucial -, it is to walk side-by-side in helping other people accomplish their goals. Leadership is a mutually beneficial relationship in which we can all learn from one another and help each other reach our highest potential.

In the past, I have held leadership positions such as holding the position as the Fitness Director of a gym facility. Contributing to hiring, educating, and advancing the knowledge of other Certified Personal Trainers so they in turn can provide a higher quality of service to their clientele. Moreover, I wholeheartedly believe that rectifying the obesity epidemic in America begins with the education of fitness and wellness to our youth. In Graduate school, at the University of Florida, I developed, implemented, and instructed various Youth Fitness Programs that brought to life the fundamentals of exercise technique, nutritional habits, and critical attributes of sports psychology (i.e. motivation, emotional regulation, confidence, and self-efficacy). Currently, I am a member of the Graduate Student Council where I work with exceptional individuals in various graduate student affiliates to plan events that support and represent our graduate student community here at Regis. I would love to become more involved and experienced with the American Physical Therapy Association and enhance my leadership skills, however, that might have to wait until after my first year of PT school – barely staying afloat as it is!

I am immensely humbled, honored, and ecstatic to be serving as the first black student body president of the Regis Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program (DPT). Looking at myself in a different light, this opportunity provides me a platform to promote diversity within my student body and lend a hand in bridging the diversity gap that currently exists within the realm of the Physical Therapy profession. There is a great sense of optimism in illuminating the depth and breadth of black genius in the healthcare field. Additionally, I am poised to offer a model of excellence for other minorities living in a society that continues to marginalize our hopes and dreams, accentuate our mistakes and errors, and place too little value on our lives or deaths. I find it also to be a demonstration of Regis University’s goal to exemplify diversity within their academic programs which is revering in it of its self. Ultimately, I endeavor to be the president of my entire cohort and represent minorities within the healthcare field. Viewing this as an invaluable opportunity, I strive to create a positive rippling effect that reverberates throughout the Regis DPT program for years to come.

It is a painful and arduous time for Blacks in America right now. Systemic racism, prejudices, and inequalities have inundated our society and have planted roots in our culture. This year marks the 95th anniversary of Black History Month and we must be aware of this and reflect on how far we have come not only as a race, but as a nation. Black History Month is not a month-long affirmative action holiday for African Americans. Nor is it 28 days of expressing contempt towards white people for 400 years of enslavement and racial segregation. It is a homage to reflect and appreciate the tremendous achievements of living trailblazers and deceased: pioneers, educators, innovators, discoverers, and advocates who have shaped our country. Black History Month empowers us to inspect the substantial contributions of Blacks to human civilization and provides all Americans with the opportunity to celebrate the rich and robust heritage, culture, and achievements of African Americans. I admonish my classmates, professors, and community to be cognizant, reflect on, and study Black History, because when we do, we study ourselves and our national heritage and history.

I have a few words of advice for students of color in leadership positions or those pursuing leadership positions. First, intentionally seek experiences to develop yourself for future leadership service. Essentially, be vulnerable, place yourself outside your comfort zones, and take risks, because intentionality seeds serendipity. Next, overcome your internal barriers. Developing a strong foundation of personal resilience, learning how to handle conflict appropriately, and circumventing internalized negativity will help you assimilate the negative self-talk you might associate with your abilities. Furthermore, keep your friends close, and your mentors closer. Never feel afraid to ask for help and surround yourself with those whose priorities align with yours – you are a product of the 6 individuals you surround yourself with. Also, seek a mentor who has achieved what you are striving for and emulate their inspiration to achieving higher goals. Finally, accept that there is no singular path to success. It may appear as if a majority of leaders orchestrated their success from the beginning to arrive where they stand today, however, this is not the case. Do exceptional work even if it seems mundane and niche, embrace failure and change, and exude enthusiasm in everything that you do.

By Brandon Johnson, President of Class of 2023

Demographics of Physical Therapy – A History and Reflection by Annie Fleming

December 18th, 2020

Another semester of DPT school completed, and as the class of 2022 and 2023 take a well-deserved break, it also provides us with time for reflection. 2020 has been a whirlwind for us all, between the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, we have all been given the opportunity to reflect on the world as we know it, and also time to question it. My time in the clinic was invaluable and throughout my five weeks of learning, I began to notice an inexplicable fact about our profession. I look around and see a profession predominantly composed of white women. I began to wonder why I look around a clinic, my classroom, and our faculty, and see a majority of people who look exactly like me. To better understand this, I thought it best to understand the origin of our profession. After all in order to understand where we want to go, it’s best to understand where we’ve been.

We can trace the origin of physical therapy in the United States back to two events: the Poliomyelitis epidemic and World War II. The spread of poliomyelitis, which is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and can cause paralysis, was combated through quarantine and isolation (sound familiar?). To treat the effects of the disease, individuals were fitted for long-term splinting and casting to immobilize the limbs and spine. This led to muscle atrophy and decreased flexibility. To combat these effects, female healthcare providers began to specialize in musculoskeletal disorders and provide treatment to those combatting musculoskeletal impairments related to polio.

Along with the poliomyelitis epidemic, World War II increased the need for medical personnel who specialized in musculoskeletal disorders. Medical advancements increased the number of soldiers surviving war, but there was an increasing number of soldiers living with disability. The same group of female healthcare providers, now named the American Women’s Physical Therapeutic Association, who were treating individuals with polio, stepped in to treat soldiers living with disability. The problem was that this new group of specialists was not being given the benefits of other medical professionals in the army. The Hill Burton Act of 1946 changed that. This Act granted the level of officer to female dietetic and physical therapy personnel of the Medical Department of the Army.1 This distinction of officer was not only important in that it recognized physical therapy as a legitimate profession, but it also allowed these providers to retire under the law providing for the retirement of members of the Army Nurse Corps.

So why is it important to understand this? Well let’s look at the current demographics of physical therapists in the United States. The APTA’s most recent data from 2016 indicates that 69.4% of APTA members are female and 88.5% are white. Can we really be surprised? From the beginning of the physical therapy profession, it was basically mandated as a female profession because only females could receive benefits under the Hill Burton Act. The profession being predominantly white is due to the influence of segregation and discrimination of the Army Nurse Corps. Although no laws excluded nurses and medical professionals from joining based on race, the requirements to join involved completion of training at a hospital with more than 50 beds. This type of training was nearly impossible for Black nurses specifically, as most were not allowed entry to training programs at a hospital of more than 50 beds, but instead completed training at small, segregated hospitals.2

I recognize the irony in this, I, a white female student physical therapist writing about how the profession is predominantly white and female. However, I also recognize the power my voice has in acknowledging the inequities in our profession. Change happens when the majority fearlessly speak out and then give that platform to those most affected. As I look around at my classmates, whether it’s in Peter Claver Hall or a Zoom room, I have recognized that the majority of my classmates look like me. I can’t help but wonder, is that what is best for the profession? More importantly, is that what is best for our future patients? Is the population we serve predominantly female and white? No. We treat individuals of all sex, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. (Unfortunately that’s also dependent on issues of access for these populations, but that’s a blog post for another time). Patients should be able to look around a clinic and see a clinician who looks like them.

The APTA recently announced new efforts and investments to support diversity, equity, and inclusion through expanding fundraising efforts, the creation of a standing committee on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and establishing a new APTA staff position of director of inclusion.3 These are all great steps in the direction towards diversifying our profession, but there is a lot more work to be done. As students and future clinicians we must actively work to change the demographic numbers I mentioned above. It is unacceptable for there to be such a stark contrast in the demographics of our profession and the populations we serve. We can work to change these numbers by participating in outreach to local communities, supporting organizations aimed at diversifying our profession (like the National Association of Black Physical Therapists), and most importantly listening to the trailblazers in this profession. Those who saw the statistics of the white female majority and encountered barriers many never have to, and still achieved their goal. What can we learn from them about how to make this profession more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

Here at Regis, I’m proud to say we are continuously taking steps in this direction. We are doing our best to listen and learn and most importantly take action. But there is more to be done. Challenging the process, a leadership value we are reminded to develop within our curriculum, will serve us well in changing this profession to be more representative of the patients we serve.


2. https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/african-american-nurses-world-war-ii


By Annie Fleming, Community Service Chair – Class of 2022


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,

Dr. Lisa VanHoose

Pride Month 2020

June 26, 2020

A patient walks into the clinic with knee pain, the physical therapist responds:

 “Are you sure that you have knee pain? Have you thought about the other people that are in pain? I don’t think this is important.”

  How did the PT perform? Clearly, the PT performed poorly. Dismissing a patient’s identified problem the second they walk into the clinic is not the sign of a good clinician. We all have learned about providing “patient-centered care.” Guaranteed, the majority of us mentioned this in our application essays to PT school. Is it possible to provide patient centered-care while ignoring the needs and concerns of our patients? The answer is no. 

  A patient’s needs and concerns are not limited to body-structure and function. As students our goal is to learn about the situations we may encounter as we enter the clinic so that, when we graduate, we are as ready as possible to provide our patients with the best care. We will enter with biases that can negatively impact patients – whether we are aware of these biases or not. This is what forms the foundation of health-care disparities; the biggest barrier to providing quality patient-centered care. 

  At the end of the day we treat people, not injuries. It is our responsibility to make the healthcare system better than it is now. This is a call to arms to healthcare students: listen, learn, and advocate. Now is the time to dissect your own privilege and biases so that you do not bring these biases into the clinic. It is not an easy task, and is something we must continually work toward—personally, professionally, and collectively. To actively fight racism, homophobia, and the negative stigmas that contribute to healthcare disparities from the get-go is to build and be a part of a better healthcare system for all

  If you have read this far and are thinking, “I am not biased,” I encourage you to reflect deeper than that. Because all of us are. As a twenty-five-year-old female, who has been a member of the LGTBQ+ community for seven years, I still have biases that will prevent me from treating this community with quality care. As it is Pride Month, I’m here to talk through some of that with you. In support of the black lives matter movement it is imperative that we acknowledge the essential and elemental part that black people played, and still play, in the LGBTQ+ community. 

  Marsha P. Johnson was a trans activist who was at the forefront of the Stonewall riots that sparked the begining of the gay rights movement in America.  For those of you who don’t know about Stonewall or the riots, I encourage you to read more on it—you will learn about a mafia-owned bar that payed off the cops, so that the bar would serve as a safe haven for the LGBTQ+ community (although, admittedly, it was not always safe, and the intent of the mafia was to profit off of people who had nowhere else to go). Despite her activism for LGBTQ+ rights, Marsha was brutally discriminated against by most of the LGBTQ+ community of the time: those fortunate enough to be out and feel, relatively, safe during that time period (primarily white, cis men). Marsha P. Johnson paved the way for LGBTQ+ rights during a time when it was incredibly dangerous to do so. Privilege check: as a native New Yorker I have gone to Stonewall easily five times and, until recently, knew nothing about its history. I have come to realize that I really know nothing about the LGBTQ+ community that I consider myself a part of. How can I expect to treat a population that I know nothing about, even if I am a part of it? 

  For seven years I have hidden behind the privilege of being able to mask my sexual identity whenever I want. In doing so, I neglected to fully recognize the ways that LGBTQ+ people are marginalized. I realize now that, because of this, I have risked my ability to provide effective care to my patients. I must also recognize that, as a white woman, I will never know or understand the discrimination faced on a systemic and personal level by BIPOC. The healthcare system we are all a part of has, and continues to, reinforce systemic racism—with, far too often, fatal consequences. Without first understanding my own privilege and without also imploring us all to educate ourselves, I cannot say I am being actively anti-racist. If I do not take the time to understand discrimination, there is no way for me to fight healthcare disparities as a PT. 

  We all need to listen and seek opportunities to be actively anti-racist, actively anti-homophobic, and actively inclusive of marginalized communities. If we do not listen, we will never hear. If we do not hear, we will never be able to understand. If we do not try to understand, there is no way we can provide quality care. We need to learn about the history and lived and told experiences of our patients. It is our duty, as healthcare providers, to listen when people say that they do not feel that they are being heard. Listening is step one, learning is step two, and action is step three. 

-Ashley Drozd, Class of 2022

People: A Reflection and Call to Action on Social Injustice

May 28, 2020

We learn how to help others exercise. We study the physiology of breathing. We practice checking vitals. We renew our CPR certifications annually. We value people and their lives.

Ahmaud was just running. George was merely trying to breathe. Breonna was getting the sleep that we say is so important.

We cannot be silent on a glaring barrier – one that prevents people of color from enjoying these basic human rights. Our knowledge and skills are only as powerful as our ability to use them for all people.

Men and women serving others represents one of our core values at Regis University. Within this value we claim to be “encouraged to pursue justice on behalf of all persons.” We are, and have been for a long time, at the point where justice is necessary; the system itself needs fixed. This is not about us though. Human lives are collateral damage in this inferno of ignorance and hate. The fire was lit long ago by a world that decided skin color decided your literal worth. Some continue to feed the fire. Some cook with the fire and bask in it’s heat, blatantly benefiting from the systematic racism in America. Some watch it burn and do nothing. I encourage us to be raindrops. Let us use our voices and seek out resources to, together, create the perfect storm and ultimately put out this fire. I do not want to minimize the severity of this situation;  I realize the solution is not that simple. I also want to acknowledge my own privilege as a white woman who does indeed benefit from the current system. However, I believe by acting on our values we can contribute to change.

Today I share my classmates’ words, thoughts, and feelings. To be completely transparent, this was a reflection originally centered around the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery. Unfortunately somehow that is too small. The unjustified loss of an entire human life, a mother’s whole world, is too small because in the weeks that we compiled this post multiple other egregious acts have occurred that are burning too bright to ignore (and these cases are only what has gone viral.) Please refer to the end for specific ways you can be a raindrop right now. This does not end here; this post is the pilot of a new diversity and inclusion tab on our blog which we aim to update monthly.

When asked to reflect, these words rang the loudest in our program. These are taken straight from the most frequent words used within our reflections…

wordcloud for blog

One classmate shared a poem he wrote…

I can leave my house at any hour without fear

Because I’m a white man

I’ve never had to worry about where I go

Because I’m a white man

I’ve never been scared to exercise on my own 

Because I’m a white man

My mom has never wondered if I’d come home from a run

Because I’m a white man

I’ve never been seen as a threat

Because I’m a white man

Whatever I do can be forgiven 

Because I’m a white man

I have the privilege to live without fear or consequences 

Because I’m a white man

I’ve never been held responsible

Because I’m a white man

I can deny that racism exists

Because I’m a white man

They chose to gun him down

Because he was a black man

I can ignore the truths that stand before me

Because I’m a white man

But I won’t

-Conner Weeth, Class of 2022

And finally, a call to action from our Diversity Committee Chairs, Peter Lee and Shivan Mcdonald and their diversity committees who have encouraged this movement within our program.

In her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Author Austin Channing Brown recalls her classmate’s reflection upon learning the history of lynching in the South: 

“I don’t know what to do with what I’ve learned. I can’t fix your pain, and I can’t take it away, but I can see it. And I can work for the rest of my life to make sure your children don’t have to experience the pain of racism. Doing nothing is no longer an option for me.”

We believe you will find this common sentiment from our program: this is bigger than us, doing nothing is not an option. 

We encourage continuous education and action. These are not the only injustices that occur in the world we live in today. These things will keep happening and it’s up to us to be aware, vulnerable, and educated. However, the following are resources you can use now for these specific cases.

  • Call Georgia Governors office at 770-800-0689 and demand justice for Ahmaud.
  • Visit justiceforbreonna.org for resources.
  • Call Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey at 612-673-2100 and the DA at 612-348-5550 for action regarding the George Floyd.

We are all people; let’s be kind to one another and lean on each other.