The Allied Health Workforce Diversity Act (HR 3637) aims to provide grants to increase opportunities for individuals who are from underrepresented backgrounds, including students from racial and ethnic minorities, in the professions of occupational therapy and physical therapy, among others.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) are working together to help advance this legislation, AOTA notes in a news release.

“African-Americans have, for too long, been underrepresented in the health sector, making up less than 5% of physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and audiologists. That is unacceptable, as it is not how America looks.

“The U.S. Institute of Medicine has found evidence that patients have better health outcomes when the doctor and patient are the same race or ethnicity,” says US Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-IL) who, with US Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), introduced HR 3637 recently into the House of Representatives.

“I am pleased to work on this legislation to help minority and underrepresented communities to provide pathways to meaningful, high-paying jobs in the health sector and to help expand health professional coverage to communities that need it. By working together, we can make real change for Americans across the country and affirm our commitment to allow everyone the opportunity to achieve the American dream,” he adds.

Rodgers agrees, commenting that, “I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of occupational therapy, speech pathology, audiology, and physical therapy in helping people to live more full and independent lives. That’s why I’m joining in introducing this bipartisan legislation to encourage a more diverse workforce in these fields.

“When people from underserved areas go into these fields, they are more likely to serve our rural communities. This bill will help better serve Eastern Washington and the people who rely on these allied health professionals.”

According to AOTA’s 2015 Salary & Workforce Survey, the percentage of occupational therapy practitioners identifying themselves as African American or black is 3.1%, and those identifying as Hispanic or Latino is 3.2%. Only 1.4% identify as multiethnic.

“The ability for an occupational therapy client to identify culturally with their occupational therapy practitioner enhances the therapist-client experience,” states Wendy C. Hildenbrand, PhD, MPH, OTR/L, FAOTA, President of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), in the release.

“This legislation would provide new professional opportunities for individuals whose backgrounds are currently underrepresented in the occupational therapy workforce. Having a more diverse workforce builds capacity for occupational therapy professionals to better address the health needs of all Americans.”

Of the approximately 336,500 physical therapists and physical therapist assistants currently in the US, only 18.3% are considered racial or ethnic minorities, which is not reflective of the patients served. APTA is committed to increasing diversity among the physical therapy workforce, which is why it is a central goal of its new strategic plan, it notes in the release.

“APTA’s strategic plan calls for us to be an inclusive organization that reflects the diversity of the society the physical therapy profession serves. To do so, we must build a diverse profession by ensuring there are opportunities that allow for inclusion of all individuals who want to become physical therapists and physical therapist assistants. This legislation will help to provide those,” says APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD.

“The population we serve is evolving and becoming ever more diverse. We know that patients who receive care from providers who share their racial and ethnic backgrounds tend to respond better to treatment. That’s one reason this legislation is so important, and we applaud the representatives who have introduced it.”

[Source: American Occupational Therapy Association]