Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Rush’s Legislation to Diversify Physical Therapy and Related Health Professions

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Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Rush’s Legislation to Diversify Physical Therapy and Related Health Professions (Washington, D.C.) — Today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee held a hearing on the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (H.R. 3320), legislation introduced by U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) in May. Rush’s bipartisan bill would provide grant funding to colleges and universities to make physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, audiology, and speech-language pathology programs more accessible to underrepresented communities, including racial and ethnic minorities.

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“The lack of diversity in the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy, respiratory therapy, speech and language pathology, and audiology is very troubling,” said Rush. “Research showed that this lack of diversity leads to less access to these specialists in underserved and in rural areas and worse health outcomes for patients. That is why I was compelled to introduce the Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act.”

Dr. Victoria Garcia Wilburn, a licensed occupational therapist and member of the Board of Directors at the American Occupational Therapy Association who grew up in Chicago, testified at the hearing in support of Rush’s Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act.

“When reflecting on this legislation, I think about how different my life would have been if the Allied Health Workforce Diversity program had existed when I started my pursuit to become an occupational therapist,” said Garcia Wilburn. “I would have been provided a distinct pathway to my career, instead of spending countless hours navigating potential college majors as a first-generation student. I would have had improved mental health, and perhaps my academic achievement would have been greater with more support.”

“The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act would provide thousands of future students of respiratory therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech language pathology, and audiology with access to additional targeted supports beyond what I received, like mentorship and tutoring,” Garcia Wilburn continued. “Students who are disadvantaged and from underrepresented communities bring a unique perspective to our health care system and improve health outcomes. If we as a nation want to improve patient care and reduce health disparities, we must increase our efforts to recruit, train, and support these students.” Garcia Wilburn’s full testimony is available here.

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recent study found that patients who receive care from healthcare professionals of their own cultural background tend to have better outcomes, and that health professionals from underrepresented and minority backgrounds are more likely to go on to practice in medically underserved areas. A 2017 report by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) found that more than 77% of professionals in the physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology fields are Caucasian, while less than 5% of these professionals are Black and less than 7% are Hispanic.

The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act is modeled after the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development program, which has successfully increased the percentage of racial and ethnic minorities who pursue careers in nursing. In the Q&A portion of the hearing, Rush asked Garcia Wilburn to speak about the successes of the Title VIII Nursing Workforce Development Programs and asked what best practices the Allied Health professions should take from the Title VIII programs. A full transcript of Rush’s Q&A with Garcia Wilburn is available here.

Rush’s Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act was co-led by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) and is co-sponsored by 40 other Members of the House of Representatives. The legislation has also been introduced in the Senate by Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Rush’s Legislation to Diversify Physical Therapy and Related Health Professions

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