Affirmative Action in American Higher Education and the Goal of Diversity in Physical Therapy Programs / Commentary

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT The majority of physical therapists who practice in the United States have been educated in our colleges and universities. As students, they enjoyed the rights and privileges associated with American higher education. The theoretical underpinnings ofAmerican higher education include access, diversity, and excellence. Access to higher education in physical therapy today, along with its structural diversity, offers the student an opportunity unparalleled in the past. However, cultural diversity within physical therapy programs has been, and continues to be, in jeopardy. Deleterious effects associated with the lack of diversity, within both the academy and the profession, challenge our practice and limit our capability to reach out to all members of our society who are in need of our skills. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the benefits associated with cultural diversity within higher education, and specifically physical therapy programs. Current issues that threaten the potential for a diverse, culturally competent physical therapy profession are presented along with suggestions and recommendations that may serve to promote and ensure this critical initiative. The report, Twelfth Report: Minorities in Medicine, by the Council on Graduate Medical Education (1998) emphasizing the need for "culturally competent" practitioners, is discussed. The historical roots of establishing a diverse academy and the present threats to the ideals and principles of diversity are illustrated. Present initiatives and alternatives supporting the efforts relative to establishing and affirming a diverse professional body, such as those initiatives established by the American Physical Therapy Association, are presented. The position that American higher education, including phys

ical therapy programs, must support and encourage a diverse academic community to ensure a multicultured professional base to best serve our patients and society is offered. This position supports those theoretical underpinnings as previously mentioned. Without diversity within higher education and our profession, excellence seems, at best, an ideal, not an achievable, goal.

PURPOSE

The purpose of this paper is to discuss the benefits associated with cultural diversity within higher education, and specifically physical therapy programs. Current issues that threaten the potential for a diverse, culturally competent physical therapy profession are presented along with suggestions and recommendations that may serve to promote and ensure this critical initiative.

INTRODUCTION

Access, diversity, and excellence are concepts that have served as major thematic pillars of higher education in the United States for the past half century. Trow1 reports that American higher education is unique in its size and diversity. Most, if not all, institutions of higher education in the United States include in their mission statements ideals relative to serving society, recognizing and appreciating cultural differences, and preparing men and women to assume roles of responsibility within a society that is shaped by cultural forces. American society continues to develop into an increasingly diverse one. Diversity as an institutional mission serves many needs, one being that it exposes its students to individuals from all races represented in the nation.2 The goals of the physical therapy profession, as expressed by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), recognize the importance of cultural diversity, both to the profession and society in general.3 Evidence demonstrates that diversity in higher education has positive effects in a number of areas related to institutional missions and the needs of society, including health care needs. The work of Astin4 and others indicates how increasing the diversity of higher education programs may facilitate the development of health care professionals who are better able to respond to the needs of culturally diverse clients. …