In 1999, Congress commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to explore the extent of racial and ethnic disparities in the United States healthcare system. In their final report (“Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Health Care”), the IOM found that disparities do exist and are associated with negative health outcomes for members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Further, the IOM found that much of the disparity arises from the way in which our system delivers health care; thus, the IOM offered a series of recommendations on how to reduce disparities in the system. One of the key recommendations was to enhance the diversity of the entire health care workforce for the purposes of enhancing communication between patients and providers, as well as increasing awareness among non-minority health care providers. Given that almost 30% of the U.S. population is made up of minority groups, there is a gross under-representation of minorities in all areas of health care, particularly physical therapy. In fact, minority physical therapists make up only about 9% of the total membership of the American Physical Therapy Association (4.2% Asian, 1.9% Hispanic, 1.5% African American, 0.5% American Indian/Alaskan Native and 1.1% other).
We believe that there are two main reasons for the lack of diversity in the physical therapy profession, including: (1) the lack of awareness of the profession among minority individuals, and (2) lack of educational resources to support the successful training of minority physical therapists. Both of these challenges must be addressed if we are to successfully diversify the physical therapy profession. For most minority students with strong academic backgrounds and an inclination towards science, we contend that they are being advised to pursue careers in more traditionally known fields, such as medicine and engineering. Further, these gifted students are more likely to be swayed into professions where there are actual resources to support their academic success. In particular, engineering has done an excellent job of recruiting minorities into that profession with many powerful experiential and mentoring programs that have brought awareness to the profession and offered tangible assistance in fostering academic success. Even when we get past the awareness issue about the physical therapy profession, there is still the issue of the academic difficulties that many minority students face during the physical therapy training and licensure process. A recent study of 20 physical therapy education programs demonstrated that non-white race/ethnicity is a predictor of failing the National Physical Therapy Examination, which is required for physical therapy licensure in the U.S. (Utzman, Physical Therapy, 2007). It is clear that resources are necessary if we are to recruit and retain talented minority individuals into the physical therapy profession.
We propose a 2-pronged attack to address the under-representation of minority individuals in the physical therapy profession through our Advancing Diversity in Physical Therapy (ADaPT) Program, which will focus on (1) recruitment of academically prepared minority undergraduates and (2) enhancement of their educational preparation for graduate physical therapy education.