Collaborative program helps increase diversity in physical therapy field

Originally published by the UNT Health Science Center:

UdofioA novel approach to improving diversity in the field of physical therapy is proving successful at the UNT Health Science Center.

Allied Health Pathways, a collaboration between the Health Science Center, the University of North Texas and local community colleges, has already placed almost 50 African American and Hispanic males on a pathway to the doctoral physical therapy program.

Created in September 2012, the program identifies qualified minority male undergraduates and provides them academic intervention, professional development, mentoring, internship opportunities and other assistance.

Fewer than 1 percent of practicing physical therapists are African American and Hispanic men, according to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. This diversity gap was deemed a public health crisis by the Center for California Health Workforce Studies.

"In order to achieve excellence and truly serve our community, we must have diversity," said Clayton Holmes, PT, EdD, and Chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. "This program allows us to create an unprecedented support structure that puts these talented students on a direct pathway to a rewarding career in physical therapy."

The program is funded by a $400,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and an $85,000 matching gift from program partner, TruCare Solutions Inc.

M. Jean Keller, PhD, professor of kinesiology, health promotion & recreational studies, vice president for community engagement, interim vice president for institutional equity and diversity at UNT and the the project's principal investigator, said the lack of diversity among physical therapy professionals may create health disparities among minority populations. Allied Health Pathways also assists students interested in other allied health professions, such as physician assistant studies and occupational therapy.

"This project is designed to close the gaps by increasing the awareness of allied health professionals and the number of male minorities who become licensed physical therapists," Keller said. "The need was great and, to the best of our knowledge, no program like this exists elsewhere."

Joe Udofia, (above right) a first-year physical therapy student, was the first Allied Health Pathways participant accepted into the physical therapy program this fall. This year, he will mentor a prospective student who currently attends North Lake College. The two men have already met for dinner and exchange text messages frequently.

"There are so many things you need to know — the grades to make, the kind of community service that looks good on an application and extracurricular activities that make you a well-rounded person," Udofia said. "Hopefully, his journey here can be as smooth as possible."

-Alex Branch, UNT Health Science Center