It Takes a Village: Tiered Mentorship for Development of URM in PT


Physical therapists serve people with a broad range of racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Historically, healthcare providers are comprised of a demographic that is disproportionate to the patient population it serves. Evidence suggests that increased diversity in health professions cohorts is associated with improved educational outcomes and better patient outcomes. While there are ongoing efforts to improve diversity in the physical therapy workforce, significant underrepresentation of some groups persists.

Mentorship has been an effective strategy utilized in a number of healthcare and educational settings to aid in professional development, including promoting disciplines among high performing students from underrepresented groups. However, the complexities of diversified mentoring, including tendencies, benefits, and challenges, have been illuminated in the literature.

This session will outline the development of an innovative mentorship framework designed with the ultimate goal of increasing the professional representation of underrepresented minorities (URM) in physical therapy. Speakers will highlight the values and evidence that guided concept development. The process of assessing an institution’s culture of diversity and inclusion will be discussed, and then with a clearer picture of the readiness of their own institution, participants will explore the feasibility of tiered mentorship. Speakers will highlight the steps taken by one university to initiate a sustainable mentorship program that includes four key stakeholder groups.

Methods and/or Description of Project

Recognizing the need for increased diversity within the profession and program, one DPT program developed a Tiered Mentorship Program as a part of a larger initiative to attract and support a more diverse cohort. The program is aimed at developing an explicit network of trained mentors who are committed to increasing the professional representation of those who are underrepresented in physical therapy and who are committed to ensuring the success of a diverse student body. Participants represent 4 key stakeholder groups including prospective students from underrepresented demographics, current students, clinicians, and academic faculty. Program facilitators arrange diversified mentorship teams with representatives from each key stakeholder group. At a kick-off event, teams are assigned mentorship milestones and encouraged to formulate both team practices and team goals. Additionally, each participant is encouraged to share individual goals with their teammates and discuss shared accountability. Finally, participants are invited to reconnect and celebrate progress in a series of team-building events.


The Tiered Mentorship Program development team is comprised of representatives from the program’s admissions staff, faculty, and Inclusion Council as well as local clinicians and a student Special Interest Group on Diversity. Program developers garnered university support for funding and utilized evidence-based best practices in mentorship to structure the program. Strategies to recruit mentors and mentees were dovetailed with the efforts of the university’s recruitment team and network as well as the efforts of the Director of Community Outreach. Additionally, a team of local clinicians committed to improving diversity in the field worked to recruit clinical mentors. Finally, additional academic faculty and student mentors were encouraged to join the program.

The program has received overwhelming interest from prospective students from target groups and from students, clinicians and faculty committed to improving diversity in the field. Challenges have included communicating the targeted nature of the program without alienating willing and qualified participants and scheduling events in time slots that work for 4 different stakeholder groups. We anticipate an ongoing challenge in monitoring team and individual progress.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

Mentorship has been shown to be an effective strategy for addressing challenges in a variety of transitions, including those in educational, clinical, and administrative realms. The effectiveness of myriad formal and informal mentorship programs and relationships are supported by the literature. A tiered approach to mentorship has the potential to enhance the mutuality embedded in ideal mentorship environments and to help establish deeper bonds amongst members of a professional community who represent breadth on a continuum of professional experience. When utilized as a method by which to attract and support a diverse student body, tiered mentorship can help to draw high quality URM students, support them in academic endeavors, aid in their development of professional identity, and guide them along a professional trajectory. Additionally, tiered and diversified mentorship allows student mentors, clinicians, and faculty to refine interpersonal skills, develop assessment, coaching, and leadership skills, and improve cultural competence. Programs may consider incorporating a tiered mentorship model in efforts to recruit and support a more diverse student body and move the needle toward equity in professional representation.


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Course Objectives

At the end of the session, participants will:

1. Understand national trends in reported demographics of physical therapy students, faculty, and clinicians as compared to patient populations;
2. Understand strategies for assessing institutional culture and climate;
3. Understand the concepts of communities of practice and mutual mentorship, and apply them to recruitment and professional development strategies for students, academic faculty, and clinical faculty; and
4. Explore the feasibility of development and implementation of tiered mentorship at their own institutions via case study of a current tiered mentorship program.

Instructional Methods

Facilitated Discussions
Case Presentation

Tentative Outline/Schedule

0:00 - 0:05 Introduction & Overview
0:05 - 0:10 Socio-demographic Landscape of Physical Therapy
0:10 - 0:25 Assessing Institutional Culture and Climate
0:25 - 0:40 Small Group Discussion
0:40 - 1:00 Applying Best Practices in Mentorship to a Tiered Approach
1:00 - 1:20 Case Study in Tiered Mentorship
1:20 - 1:30 Question and Answer Period

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  • Control #: 2742238
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Dr. Vanneta Kennedy, Mya Shackleford
  • Keywords:

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