Diversity and Inclusion


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.

-Suzanne Peters, Editor-in-Chief, Class of 2022

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.