Six hand-drawn people of different races and ethnicities stand in front of an abstract orange and blue background

How to Build a Desire for Diversity in Your PT Clinic

Heidi Jannenga

Broken routines stink. There’s a special kind of frustration that accompanies an interrupted schedule—whether it’s because you unexpectedly had to pick up your kids from school, or you had to fit another patient into your schedule at the last minute. It can be really difficult to adjust and adapt to change. I know—that’s not exactly groundbreaking information. If you Google some variation of the phrase “humans and change,” you’ll see dozens of articles talking about how common it is for people to fear—and even resist—change.

As I (and other leaders) have pushed for change in the PT profession, we’ve experienced some sharp backlash. Part of that is due to a lack of education and understanding of our goals—but I also believe part of the backlash is due to a fear of change. 

In any case, to encourage diversity in the PT profession (and on a smaller scale, in your clinic) we must earn the buy-in of the people around us. We must create an understanding that this change is not only the right thing to do, but it will benefit everyone. Here’s how I believe we can do that. 

1. Find a leader who will act as a dedicated agent of change. 

To get a meaningful diversity initiative off the ground, start by recruiting someone from the highest level of your practice’s leadership team to act as your sponsor. This leader must be a gung-ho advocate for change who can: 

  • Influence the other members of the leadership team; and
  • Demonstrate that a diversity initiative will be a top-down change. 

In other words, your ideal leadership sponsor will be an excellent communicator who can earn the support of other leaders as well as the trust of the rest of the team. 

Once your sponsor has gotten other leaders on board with the desire to build up diversity in the clinic, they can begin to equip other leaders with the tools they need to further the initiative. This accomplishes a couple goals: First, it prepares other leaders to take up the torch and become the new dedicated agent of change (should the need arise). Second, it reinforces the idea that your organization is truly dedicated to the diversity initiative—and that employees need to start preparing for it. 

2. Identify roadblocks and pain points.

As you begin to craft diversity goals and map out where you want to see your practice go during the next few years, start by defining what diversity means to the company—then, identify potential roadblocks and pain points. Are there current processes and areas of the business that are obvious areas in need of improvement? Are there any teams who may push back against these changes? If so, how can you address their concerns? Will these changes affect the patient experience or put a strain on your budget? If so, how will you adapt your processes to accommodate this? What does it look like to successfully create a “more diverse workforce”—and is your environment inclusive enough to retain it? If not, how will you improve your work environment?

Ask yourself these kinds of tough questions—and be sure to have answers before you jump in feet-first. Preparation is your friend. The more wrinkles you iron out before implementing these changes, the smoother and more authentic your transition period will be. This will help reduce your employees’ feelings of uncertainty, and ultimately their fear of change. 

3. Seek input from others in your organization. 

Another way to stir up positive interest in your diversity initiatives is to include other members of the team in your planning process. Create a task force of people with a variety of job roles in the clinic (e.g., therapist, manager, front office staff), and encourage open discussion about the state of your organization and the diversity goals you should implement. By engaging your people in the process of creating and implementing change, they’ll become more invested in the process—which can drive them to go the extra mile to help your initiatives succeed. 

Sourcing other perspectives in your practice will also help you more easily identify pitfalls and roadblocks in your strategy and long-term goals. A front-office worker will notice gaps that upper management would not—and vice versa. Additionally, a third party consultant can provide an unbiased perspective of your organization, helping you build a framework that your team can fill out with details. Beyond that, your think tank may generate creative solutions to said pitfalls and roadblocks that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. 

4. Don’t just talk the talk—walk the walk.  

Finally, to really build buy-in and reduce clinic employees’ fear of change, it’s critical for the agents of change (and especially the leader who’s sponsoring the movement) to put their money (and time) where their mouth is—sometimes literally. Change requires resources—whether that’s more effort from employees, or a shift in policy or budget prioritization. In order to keep the stress of the change off employees, it may require the latter. For instance, if you want to improve your hiring practices, you may have to wait longer to fill positions or pay more money to widen the net of your talent search. 

In any case, it’s important to align your actions with the changes you propose. If you talk a big game about making the clinic more welcoming to BIPOC and other marginalized communities, but fail to make—or encourage others to make—any meaningful changes, that’s a detriment to your cause.  Remember that actions often speak louder than words! Weaving your DEI plan into your existing strategic plan sends a strong message that these goals are truly part of the future of your company. It also sends a message that leaders will be held accountable to the measurable goals in the plan.

Change can be really difficult to adapt to—but it’s integral to progress and innovation. If we want to make the PT profession better for the people who come after us, we must be willing to overcome the challenges that face us and not sweep them under the rug. But together, I believe we can improve our industry. 

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About the Author

Heidi Jannenga

I am an active member of the sports and private practice sections of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and an advocate for independent rehab therapy businesses. I was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees in 2014, and in that position, I advocate on behalf of the APTA and our profession as a whole. Additionally, I speak as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, leveraging my platform to promote the importance of women in leadership, company culture, and overall business acumen for rehab therapy professionals. I also serve as a mentor for physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs as well as a board member for Support My Club and Tallwave, where I have the opportunity to share my experience and passion for healthcare innovation and use my collaborative leadership style to empower others.