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Purposeful Recruitment Strategies to Increase Diversity in Physical Therapist Education

Moerchen, Victoria, PT, PhD; Williams-York, Bernadette, PT, DSc, GCS; Ross, Libby J., MA; Wise, Denise, PT, PhD; Dominguez, Jesus, PT, PhD; Kapasi, Zoher, PT, PhD, MBA; Brooks, Salome, PT, EdD

Journal of Physical Therapy Education: September 2018 - Volume 32 - Issue 3 - p 209–217
doi: 10.1097/JTE.0000000000000032
Position Paper

Background and Purpose. A more diverse physical therapist (PT) workforce is needed to meet the rapidly changing demographic of the United States. To achieve this increased representation within the profession, PT education must recruit, admit, and retain a more diverse student body. A comprehensive definition of underrepresented minorities (URMs) in professional physical therapy education was recently expanded to include educational, economic, and geographic disadvantage in addition to race and ethnicity.

Position and Rationale. The PT profession has not examined the disadvantaged profile of its applicant pool or student demographic, but this expanded URM definition now supports this effort. This position paper reports on a survey conducted by the American Council of Academic Physical Therapy's Diversity Task Force designed to examine recruitment into PT education through the lens of the new URM definition, with a focus on how students from underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds decide to pursue a PT career. The position taken was that identifying potential differences in how URM students achieve this decision will support the development of purposeful recruitment strategies for students from URM groups.

Discussion and Conclusion. Students from URM backgrounds reported different critical decision ages, as well as different use of or preference for resources to learn about the PT career and to prepare for application to DPT programs. Although personal experience with physical therapy was the primary influence on white students' decision to pursue a PT career, values and interests were equally impactful on this decision for disadvantaged students. Both nonwhite and disadvantaged students were also more influenced by exposure to the patient–therapist relationship and by inclusion and diversity than white students. This paper uses these data to support the need for different strategies and tailored recruitment of URM students into physical therapy education programs.

Victoria Moerchen is an associate professor of physical therapy, College of Health Sciences at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, PO Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201-0413. ( Please address all correspondence to Victoria Moerchen.

Bernadette Williams-York is professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Sciences at Alabama State University.

Libby J. Ross is the senior director for Student Affairs, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. At time of authorship, Ms. Ross was the director of Academic Services of the American Physical Therapy Association.

Denise Wise is a professor emerita at the College of St. Scholastica.

Jesus Dominguez is an assistant professor of clinical physical therapy in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy at University of Southern California.

Zoher Kapasi is the director and professor of the Division of Physical Therapy, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Emory University.

Salome Brooks is an associate professor of physical therapy, Department of Physical Therapy, School of Health Sciences at Springfield College.

The authors declare no conflict of interests.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and PDF versions of this article on the journal's Web site (

Received February 15, 2018

Accepted February 27, 2018

Copyright2018 (C) Academy of Physical Therapy Education, APTA
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