Honoring Black History Month: A Spotlight on African American Influences
Updated: Jul 28
Since its founding, Rehab United has always valued community and the role we play in contributing to its health, both literally and figuratively. As an organization, we have taken a pretty public stance on supporting marginalized communities and we strive to encourage diversity both within and beyond our team. Therefore, in honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight some of the people who have contributed to the development of our industry as well as the people who play a vital role on our team each and every day.
In this blog post, we interview one of our team members about his experience as a physical therapist assistant in an effort to gain insight on the influence that his African American heritage has had on this professional journey.
Q: Can you introduce yourself to our readers? Tell us a little bit about you and your role as a physical therapist assistant.
A: My name is Kevin Hazel, LPTA, and I am a licensed physical therapist assistant based out of RU2, otherwise known as Carmel Valley. As a physical therapist assistant I am responsible for helping to fulfill and carry out the plan of care that is established by the physical therapist and ultimately become an extension of them, which provides continuity of care for our patients and clients.
Q: What made you want to go into physical therapy?
A: The reason why I chose to go into physical therapy as a profession is simple: it allows me to not only live and breathe a lifestyle of service to others, but at the same time allows me to inspire a younger generation of individuals who look like me, that may aspire to enter the field one day. The recipe was simple - I really wanted something that was fulfilling but at the same time coincided with my principles and morals of the campsite rule.
The campsite rule is that whenever you go camping you try to leave the campgrounds in a better place than when you first found it. The profession of physical therapy allows me to do this as well as being an integral part of the healing process for patients and clients alike.
Q: Since its founding, Rehab United has always valued community and the role we play in contributing to its health, both literally and figuratively. As an organization, we’ve taken a pretty public stance on supporting marginalized communities and we strive to encourage diversity within our team. So in honor of Black History Month, we want to highlight some of the people who have contributed to our industry and people who play a vital role on our team each and every day. Can you tell us about anyone that comes to mind?
A: Yes, the name Harold Rick Hawkins is the first that comes to mind. He's influential because he really spearheaded the APTA's Advisory Panel on Minority Affairs and helped develop a toolkit to foster minority representation in physical therapy. He was also a former recipient of the APTA diversity award.
Another individual that comes to mind is doctor Chukwuemeka Nwigwe, who is the chair of the California Physical Therapy Associations Diversity Affairs Committee on which I also serve on. Dr. Nwigwe has been instrumental mentor to me in helping to spearhead the challenge for change amongst increasing awareness for the need to continue to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion and drive greater representation of minorities and marginalized groups in the profession of physical therapy.
I think it's also important as a personal testimony for me to mention one of our own, Davon Davis, LPTA, who was my clinical instructor and is someone that I hold in very high regard as a clinician that I aspire to be like. As a student, I would see how well respected he was, how he carried himself as a professional, and just knowing his perseverance through adversity really spoke to me and my story as well as my journey as a newer clinician in the profession of physical therapy.
Q: According to the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Education, African Americans make up only 3% of graduates from physical therapy programs, compared to 73.9% Caucasian, 13.7% Asian, and 6% Hispanic or Latino. Additionally, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5% of practicing PTs are African American, and these numbers haven’t really changed very much over the past decade. What do these numbers mean to you? Do you feel that this has any effect on our ability as an industry to treat the African American community?
A: In academia, within DPT and or PTA education, we constantly discuss facilitators and barriers when it comes to access to care and being able to provide care for our patients. I believe that at times this absolutely can be a barrier to not only access to any and all communities but also in building trust and rapport with minority communities, specifically the African American community.
These types of conversations aren't always the easiest to have, but I think therein lies the opportunity that we need to continue to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and having these difficult discussions and challenging not only leaders within the physical therapy profession but those decision makers at academic institutions that hold the key to opportunity for prospective future PTs and PTAs.
I think that, more importantly, having the willingness to create more equitable opportunities at an earlier onset for students who have an interest in exploring the field of physical therapy is ultimately priority number one. I don't think we should spend our energy and efforts worrying about the disparity or the systemic inequalities of the past, but instead be more solution-based and all of us take a look in the mirror at ways in which we can help make the profession of physical therapy, and the inroads to the profession, more equitable for all.
Q: According to Zippia data from 2021, there’s a fairly significant wage gap by race, with Black or African American providers earning the lowest average salary. Do you feel that this has changed at all?
A: This is difficult to speak to as wage sometimes it isn't necessarily public knowledge across the board but ultimately of course these numbers are going to be skewed based off of probability, that if there are less African American practicing physical therapists and physical therapist assistants, of course there's going to be disparity and gap based off of overall metrics. So this is tough to say - it's almost like comparing apples to oranges.
Q: In order to advance as a society, it’s important to find the courage to ask inquisitive questions and be willing to listen. How can we, as an organization founded on healthcare and physical therapy, help our industry do better on this front?
A: I think we already are taking major steps in this direction by being willing to have the conversation and being open to change. As an employee of this organization, I'm proud to be aligned with this company for these very reasons: we pride ourselves in pushing the boundaries and being different than what is known to be traditional as it pertains to the practice of physical therapy. I think having real conversations and being transparent within the communities that we serve is certainly a step in the right direction.
Q: What advice do you have for African American students, or any student, who are either considering going into the field of physical therapy or are currently in their DPT program?
A: I would say the profession needs you, and our communities also need you! The profession needs increased representation from all the underrepresented minority groups to help mirror the diverse communities in which we serve, in order to fulfill our vision which is to provide the best care for our communities and to help optimize human movement.
I would also tell students who are African American that you shouldn't sit and spin your wheels on the why, but be the change and that the way forward is through leadership. We should all think of ourselves as leaders because one thing is for sure and two things are for certain: someone is always watching you and admiring you whether you know it or not, and 9 times out of 10 that person looks just like you.
Q: You are obviously someone that is really passionate about leadership, especially within your field. You recently started a scholarship fund at a local college that focuses on leadership, right? Tell us about that.
A: Thank you. Yes, actually, I started the LEAD Scholarship at Mesa College, which is my personal effort to enhance equity and reward PTA students that exemplify leadership and foster diversity equity and inclusion. The LEAD Scholarship was developed to create a sustainable plan for the LEAD program.
LEAD was started by myself and another classmate during the summer of 2020. The social climate was one that caused a lot of internal reflection and ignited a fire to be the change. LEAD is a program where PTA students can collaborate together on initiatives that they are passionate about such as language diversity, where Spanish speaking classes were taught and developed by students as well as guest speakers that spoke and educated other allied healthcare students regarding the importance of diversity equity and inclusion. The lead scholarship is available to Mesa College students, both first and second years, and we hope to grow the fund so that it can be available to not just PTA students but potentially DPT and other allied health care students.
That's incredible! Thank you so much for sharing your insight and perspective, Kevin. We really appreciate you taking the time to have this conversation with us to help us become more aware, as a community and as an organization, about the inequities and opportunities for growth and change within our industry. More importantly, thank you for your passion and leadership both within and beyond our industry.
One of our goals as an organization is to take a more forefront position in driving change within our industry and our profession, and this conversation allows us to take a step in the right direction. So again, thank you.
Kevin Hazel, LPTA, is a licensed physical therapy assistant at Rehab United in Carmel Valley. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2005 with a degree in Criminal Justice and spent most of his professional career in recruiting and human resources.
Most recently, prior to pursuing the field of physical therapy, Kevin was a traveling physical therapy recruiter. In 2021, he graduated from Mesa College's Physical Therapy Assistant program and has been practicing ever since.
Kevin is a very active member of the California Physical Therapy Association, where he is a member of the Diversity Affairs Committee.