They Said That I Couldn’t Do It: My Journey as a Black Physical Therapy Student


My name is Erika and I am writing this blog in hopes to inspire somebody’s daughter, son, mother, father, brother or sister to set goals and actually achieve them. This is my very first post so please, don’t judge me LOL. I promise I will get better at this.

At the age of four years old, I already knew that I wanted to be a physical therapist. Although, I did not know what that journey would entail, I was determined to become a P.T.. Fast forward twenty two years later and I am now in my third and final year of P.T. school. It has been a long time coming! From struggling to pass high school to making the Dean’s List in undergrad, I knew that I had to overcome many obstacles in an effort to obtain my goals. One of them, being black.

It was difficult growing up in a single parent household. When I was three years old, my father passed away and my mother suffered a debilitating stroke. Due to my mother’s disabilities, my grandmother stepped up to take care of my younger sister and I. She made sure that we had clothes and shoes for school, toys to play with, food to eat and that our hair was done; particularly for picture day. I learned the importance of work at a young age. I also knew that money did not come easy especially when your mother is on a fixed income.

In high school, I almost gave up on my dream. Geometry didn’t make sense, I did not care about the Boston Tea Party, and I could not write an essay to save my life. I did not care about school and hated the thought of continuing after graduation. Somehow, I made it through. My junior year I took my SATs and did really well. This encouraged me to continue with the “college thing” and actually apply. Working through high school to pay for college application fees, my phone bill, food, and clothes was important to me. I had to keep up with the other kids. The only difference was that they actually had help from their parents and didn’t have to work. At sixteen, I had my driver’s license but of course no vehicle to drive. At that point, I set a goal to work even harder just so that I could have my own.

Once I graduated from high school, I was accepted to and attended a four-year in-state college. It was a small historically black college not too far from where I lived but since I did not have a car, I moved on campus. It meant the world turning eighteen and being “on my own”. I made a lot of friends and felt like an adult living on campus. In some way, majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry turned me into a bookworm. I was the complete opposite of my high school self. I studied every night, did homework a week before it was due and did little to no partying. My life was pretty boring but my grades were on point.

During my sophomore year of undergrad, I decided to observe physical therapy so I started working as an aide/technician in a small outpatient clinic. My duties included assisting licensed physical therapists with patient treatment session, scheduling appointments and maintaining a safe and clean environment. I learned a lot my first couple of months and I knew that it was the right career for me. Who wouldn’t want to help people and get paid for it? But there was one thing that bothered me. One question that I needed an answer to: Where were the black people? Were there black physical therapists? Am I only the only black person interested in this field? It was discouraging because I did not know of any African Americans who were physical therapists. I realized that I had to strive and step it up a bit for I was a potential threat to “them”. Two years later, I began working in different settings including acute and sub-acute care. It was amazing to see the different approaches to physical therapy treatment with different diagnoses and patient populations. The experience was great and helped me to enhance my interpersonal and communication skills.

Toward the end of my senior year, I started studying for the GRE. This test was a requirement for most graduate schools and needed a lot of my focus. I also started researching and applying to P.T. schools. Boy was that shit expensive and time consuming! It was difficult trying to pass intense science courses, save money and deal with my grandmother’s passing. Losing her hurt me because she was there every step of the way and was my number 1 fan. I knew that I had to continue to make her proud. In retrospect, I needed more time and was not ready for P.T. school. Not only was it competitive but, there was so much involved. Letter of recommendations, completing observation hours, getting transcripts, sending money here and there, and finding financial aid was tough. I got confused after awhile.

Needless to say, I was not accepted to any of the six schools that I had applied to. After graduation, I began working full time as tech at a larger hospital. The pay was better and I had more exposure to different settings. There was physical therapy for wound care, psychological disorders, acute rehabilitation, outpatient and pediatrics. It was great because I knew that I definitely had a chance to get accepted to P.T. school with all of this experience. I was also excited to finally see black physical therapists but there were only two. Out of 140 therapists, there were only two! I asked myself, “Are we not applying? Are schools not accepting us? How is it that there are so many non-black physical therapists?” There were more black rehab technicians than therapists which was strange.

I did not let that deter me. After 6 months of working at the hospital, I decided to apply again. This time, I made sure that I had my shit together. I contacted my references ahead of time, polished my resume, practiced interview questions, researched schools, logged my hours, and saved money. I was ready, or so I thought. A lot of the schools that matched what I was looking for were out of state and I could not imagine leaving my mother behind for three years. Who would help her? Where would I live? Where would I work? I was stuck.

I made it an effort to apply to five schools and by the grace of God, I was accepted to three of them. I was so happy and felt so good. I achieved a goal and I knew that failure was no longer an option. But, I decided not to turn in my acceptance fee. For some reason, I still did not feel ready. I never told my manager about the acceptance letters and decided to continue working as a tech. So how did I get here? Well…one day during my shift at the hospital, one of the physical therapist jokingly says, “No P.T. School will ever accept you!” I was heated to the max! Why would anyone say that? Having been rejected before I was angry. I wanted to slap the living shit out of that bitch. Little did that person know, I had three schools waiting for me. As soon as I got home from work that day, I selected the school with the curriculum that fit me and sent the acceptance fee. I did not waste anymore time. That day, I found out where a lot of the black physical therapists were: hiding, discouraged and afraid to achieve their dreams because of someone saying “You can’t, you won’t, it’s impossible”. I soon figured out that I was one of those black physical therapist that I had been searching for all of those years. Fast-forward to my first semester of P.T. school, I quickly learned that I was a minority and I had something to prove to myself and no one else.

Three years later, I have learned so much. P.T. school is not hard but intense and involves discipline. You have to be motivated and want it badly. I have had my days where I wanted to give up but, I had to find that fire that I lit in the beginning of my journey. I thought about all of those people who doubted me. People who said that it was too hard, too long, too expensive. People who I believed were right. But these were obstacles that I had to overcome, not them. I had to sacrifice and work hard to get where I am today. May 2016, I am set to graduate as a doctor of physical therapy. It will be a day that I will never, ever forget. The sleepless nights, mood swings, anxiety and stress were (are) all worth it. Having a supportive and loving mother, sister, nephew and circle of friends with me every step of the way reassures me that I am on the right path.

If you have a dream, go for it. Do not doubt yourself because you are capable of anything! Follow your heart and never give up or give in. If you believe in God, just know that he will never let you down. I was discouraged because of the color of my skin but, that was just an excuse. At one point in my life, I did not think that I could do anything that I put my mind to but I was wrong. They said that I couldn’t do it so, I did it anyway.

They Said That I Couldn’t Do It: My Journey as a Black Physical Therapy Student

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