Diversifying PT in and Outside the Classroom: Meet Rizing Tide Scholar Ruth Morales-Flores
This is the second installment of Rizing Tide’s Lighthouse Series which spotlights our exceptional scholars. Stay tuned for the third installment!
Ruth Morales-Flores is a second year student at Northwestern University’s Physical Therapy Program who credits her son as the driving force that encouraged her to pursue PT. Ruth’s son was born with developmental issues, and when she realized her son wasn’t reaching his early milestones, Ruth immediately took him to his physician. “He said that he needed physical therapy, and the physician actually referred me to a non-profit organization.” Upon starting his physical therapy, Ruth was happily surprised to see that her son’s physical therapist was also of Hispanic heritage. Through this connection, Ruth had the chance to develop a stronger relationship with her son’s PT and a greater understanding of her son’s treatment—and knowing this is not a usual occurrence, Ruth was inspired to pursue the path she is on today: becoming a future physical therapist.
While she is currently balancing being a student, a mother, and a wife, Ruth also challenges those in her program—cohorts and professors alike—to bring more focus to marginalized and underserved communities. Within her program, she engages professors to have open conversations about diversity in higher education, specifically graduate school.
During these conversations, Ruth and her professors discuss how many minority students prefer MD programs, overlooking PT as a career choice and how programs, like hers, can be more proactive when it comes to diversity. “What advice I would give to educators…understand that some of us don’t come from these great, extensive backgrounds,” she offered, identifying that many students are first generation PT students.
Out in the field, Ruth challenges her cohorts to not only provide PT care to underserved communities but to also provide mentorship and guidance. “I feel like I have a duty to assist the underserved communities in Chicago,” she says. “So now me and some other students are just joining together, and we’re really pushing to go out to the local high schools in Chicago to start pushing about going to college.”
Because of her first-hand experience as both a patient and a student, she understands the need for physical therapists who come from all walks of life, noting that patients are going to be as different as the ailments they receive treatment for. “You’re going to have people from all over the place,” says Ruth. “All walks of life, different ages.” She believes that with diverse colleagues and student cohorts, PT students will learn how to better interact, connect, and establish trust with their patients—like the level of trust that Ruth had with her son’s physical therapist.
Though she still has some time left before graduating, Ruth has her eyes set on an exciting future. Along with attending events and building relationships within the Rizing Tide scholarship community, she hopes to pursue PT in the realm of neurology with a focus on traumatic brain injury or dementia.