Factors Influencing Minority Students' Choice of Physical Therapist Education Programs

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. The physical therapy profession does not reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the United States. It is necessary for education programs to focus on improving recruitment of minority applicants to address the shortage of minority physical therapists and to reap the educational benefits of a diverse student population. The purpose of this study was to analyze factors influencing minority student choice of professional (entry-level) physical therapist education programs.

Subjects. The participants included students enrolled in the first professional year of an accredited physical therapist education program.

Methods. A survey instrument was developed based on literature and interviews with physical therapist students and faculty members. Face and content validity were acceptable. Using a 5-point Likert scale, subjects rated the influence of 51 items on their selection of a specific physical therapist education program. Stratified random cluster sampling was applied to select 66 professional physical therapy programs from a population of 150.

Results. The return rate was 66%. Results indicated subjects identifying themselves as minority ranked 3 categories higher than nonminority students when selecting a physical therapist education program: (a) cost of the program; (b) ethnic, cultural, and gender considerations; and (c) physical therapist education program faculty.

Discussion and Conclusion. Factors influencing minority student program choice differ from those influencing nonminority students. Physical therapist education program administrators may use the results of the study to develop recruitment programs focusing on minority applicants.

Key Words: Minority, Physical therapy, College choice.

INTRODUCTION

The importance of cultural diversity in education and professional practice is emphasized by various health professions, including physical therapy. Programs in medicine, nursing, and allied health strive to recruit minority students to improve workforce diversity and to more accurately reflect national racial and cultural variances.1-5 However, the majority of physical therapist students and practitioners remain disproportionately Caucasian in comparison to the population of the United States. Recruitment of minority applicants to the nation's physical therapist education programs is the first step in providing minority physical therapists to an increasingly diverse population.

The purpose of this study was to analyze factors influencing choice of professional (entry-level) physical therapist education programs by minority students. The study built upon the questionnaire by Ancrum-Smalls and colleagues,6 who surveyed physical therapist students but did not report results related to minority students. The hypothesis of the current study was that factors influencing minority students differ from factors influencing nonminority students.

Review of the Literature

The effects of the shortage of minority health care providers are far-reaching. The limited number of skilled minority health care professionals adversely affects the quality and availability of health care in minority communities.7,8 Increasing the number of minority health care providers potentially improves access to health care in underserved areas, where certain disabilities are more prevalent among minorities.9,10 Studies show minority health care workers are more likely to provide care in underserved areas, including the inner city and rural areas, and tend to provide services to patients with racial or ethnic backgrounds similar to their own.11-15

In addition to improving access to health care, minority health care professionals have a role in improving the effectiveness of care. Minority health care professionals may be better able to communicate with other minority groups and are usually more sensitive to the needs of other cultures.11,12,16,17 Ultimately, lack of minority health care providers may hinder minority patients' adherence, participation, and cooperation in rehabilitative programs, thus reducing effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. …