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Improving Accessibility and Retention of Minority Males in PT Programming

Improving Accessibility and Retention of Minority Males in PT Programming
Increasing the numbers of minority males in the physical therapy profession is critical to expanding the reach of PT specialists, but institutions need to be acutely aware of the needs of this demographic to accomplish this goal.

The following email Q&A is with Jean Keller, vice president for community engagement at the University of North Texas (UNT). In September 2012, UNT launched the Allied Health Pathways (AHP) program in collaboration with local community colleges and the university’s own Health Science Center. The AHP’s aim is to improve diversity in the physical therapy (PT) field, where, at the time of program launch, less than one percent of practicing physical therapists were African American or Hispanic men. Keller has kindly taken some time out to discuss some of the significant obstacles faced by this particular student demographic and to outline some of the approaches UNT has put into place to help them overcome those challenges.

1. What are some of the most significant roadblocks minority males face when it comes to accessing higher education?

This project looked at underrepresented males in physical therapy (PT) programs. The barriers to entry for these students included: understanding of the profession; clear understanding of the prerequisites for admission to a physical therapy program; lack of mentors who are African American and Hispanic males; and knowledge of the admissions criteria and processes to be admitted.

2. Following on that, what are the biggest challenges this group faces to persisting through a degree program and earning a credential?

Once the underrepresented males were aware of the admission criteria and prerequisites, and they were certain a PT career was what they wanted, they succeeded. Peer, faculty, staff and professional mentors were very helpful in overcoming hurdles along the way.

One critical element in this process was supporting their development of a level of financial literacy, especially for those students who were incurring debt. Finally, the time to the doctorate in PT was a major challenge some of the students needed to overcome.

3. How has your institution adapted to help these students overcome their particular obstacles?

Our academic success model is very helpful to the students and each step that it holds. Our website outlines in more detail the work we’re doing in this space. Specifically, UNT’s AHP project with their partners implemented the following strategies related to awareness and matriculation, graduation and success:

A) Awareness: Professional preparation for physical therapy has changed significantly over the past 10 years; however, little has changed related to the validity of diversity recruitment and admission criteria and strategies, which at times, disadvantages underrepresented males.

    1. Notified staff and faculty advisors, on each partnering campus, about AHP and encouraged them to promote student awareness of allied health professions and the project.


    1. Created an AHP project website and dashboard.


    1. Developed peer recruiters and faculty “influencers” to share AHP project information.


    1. Hosted culturally diverse allied health career fairs, transition fairs, and PT symposia in the north Texas region in collaboration with UNT’s Partnerships for Allied Health Success.


    1. Hosted AHP induction ceremonies, peer meetings, peer retreats and other engagement events.


    1. Popularized allied health professions for minority males with Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.


    1. Hosted high school minority male students and family allied health profession awareness programs.


  1. Hosted University of North Texas Health Science Center open houses.

B) Matriculation, Graduation, and Success: Retention of underrepresented males was critical to AHP. The project created vertical and horizontal course alignments to foster academic success as suggested in a Shiyko and Pappas (2009) article. Ash and Clayton (2009) stressed the importance of creating learning communities and worksite experiences. Based on the Dillon and Tomaka (2010) study of predictions of performance on licensing exams, we designed supplemental, tutorial and mentoring activities.

    1. Developed articulated and mapped academic pathways for students to progress seamlessly between TCCD campuses, Weatherford College, North Lake College, Ranger College, UNT and UNTHSC with a focus on early admissions and reverse transfer of academic credit.


    1. Created an early admission program between the UNT BS degree in kinesiology and the UNTHSC DPT degree (nine semester credit hours will be accepted from UNTHSC by UNT).


    1. Created vertical alignment faculty teams from all partnering IHE who reviewed course syllabi across institutions in anatomy, chemistry, exercise physiology and kinesiology with a focus on student learning outcomes and mastery, content delivery, student expectations, grading practices, course assignments, texts, educational materials, and instructional strategies to promote articulation agreements, mapped course acceptances and student success.


  1. Designed and implemented worksite experiences and professional mentoring which promoted students’ work force readiness skills and academic commitment to success. TruCare Solutions, Inc. and Seniors In Motion offered developmental and compensated internships for AHP participants.

4. Building on that, why was it important for you and your colleagues to find a way to better serve this group of learners?

Less than four percent of the physical therapy professionals are African American and Hispanic and less than one percent of those are males. The healthcare needs of the diverse populations across Texas and, indeed, across the United States do not currently reflect the providers. Thus, we felt it critical to develop this program to act on our high level of commitment to diversifying the profession. In doing so, we hope to expand the reach of PT professionals into currently underserved communities where such therapists are few and far between.

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