Collective Effort Towards Cultural Responsiveness in Physical Therapist Education: A Case Report
Background and Purpose: As a profession, physical therapy does not reflect the racial, ethnic, or cultural composition of the populations we serve1,2 and this dearth of representation is seen not only in our practitioners, but in our students, faculties, and curricula. As entry points to the profession, physical therapist (PT) education programs have the opportunity to help address disparities in minority representation. The purpose of this case report is to describe the development, establishment, and preliminary outcomes of a student led diversity, equity, and social justice coalition within a PT education program in a predominantly white institution over a 2-year period. Case Description: A total of 5 students, 1 faculty member, and 1 alumnus led this project, while over 25 other students and faculty members participated in its efforts. Work began with the creation of a safe and empowering space for minority students, supported by program faculty. From this space, the group facilitated crucial dialogue with instructors about opportunities to enhance program inclusiveness, created opportunities for honest and vulnerable discussion between peers around the experiences of minority individuals, and built connections with schools in their community. These strategies served to build cultural awareness and responsiveness among all students and educators, enhance course content development, and create opportunities for service learning and outreach activities. Outcomes: Outcomes, thus far, show positive progress towards all four goal areas. Subjective report from minority students across the three classes included in this case description reveal improved student experiences, citing increased perceived program support and decreased feelings of anxiety and distress. Students were also able to collaborate with faculty to make curriculum changes mid-course to meet the needs of a diverse student body interested in caring for a diverse population. Lastly, PT students were able to engage, as models and ambassadors of the PT profession, with 400+ middle-school students from low socioeconomic schools or programs over the course of one year. Discussion: The preliminary outcomes of this collective effort suggest that welcoming, supporting, and leveraging the experiences of minority students, alumni, and faculty can create opportunities for a successful multi-level approach to supporting minority students through PT education, increasing the cultural responsiveness of PT education, and introducing a diverse youth population to the profession through educational outreach. Anchoring these efforts in our academic programs allows focused resources to influence the profession’s student pipeline, improve the educational experience for current students, and develop graduates who are prepared to engage and advocate for a diverse society.