October 11, 2021 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

Learning to Overcome Challenges Shared by Women in Physical Therapy

On the surface, physical therapy guidelines appear to be quite simple: Arrive at work, do your job, help patients, and go home. Yet, for the majority of women in physical therapy, a standard day of work often comes with a few more requirements—starting with the task of defying the societal stigmas that often plague the rehab therapy industry.

Women have dominated the field of physical therapy for more than a decade, but the challenges they’ve faced since entering the occupation have only become more convoluted through the years. From an underrepresentation in leadership to blatant pay gaps across the occupation, dozens of microaggressions impact the potential career trajectory of women in PT each day.

Whether you identify as a woman yourself or simply want to support your female counterparts in rehab therapy, now is the time to educate yourself on the challenges shared by women in physical therapy. Below is a collection of insights from the recent “Women in Physical Therapy” Net Health webinar that detail how we can overcome these challenges, together.

Stark Disparities in Leadership

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, nearly 70 percent of its members are women. Additionally, approximately 74 percent of all licensed physical therapists are women. With figures such as these, you might anticipate that women predominantly fill leadership roles across the industry. However, that could not be farther from the truth.

Just 32 percent of owners or CEOs in the outpatient physical therapy sector are female. For perspective, this means that only 3 out of every 10 women in PT hold leadership roles, despite 7 out of every 10 physical therapists being women. In the rehab therapy field, there are glaring biases that unfortunately favor males in leadership positions.

On how to mitigate the evident disparities in leadership among physical therapists, CEO and Majority Owner Performance Physical Therapy, Dr. Michelle Collie, says, “The more we open up opportunities and encourage a more diversity within those leadership roles—whether it is a clinic director or a CEO, or whether it is a person of color or a woman—then it starts to normalize, ‘This is what leadership looks like.’”

Perpetuated Pay Gaps for Women

Pay gaps between men and women are far from just a rehab therapy issue, however, this problem continues to be perpetuated in PT. On many occasions, women in physical therapy enter a position without proper compensation, while a male counterpart is not only heavily compensated more but is also provided more opportunities for growth beyond the aforementioned leadership position.

A striking example of the gender pay gap in action was raised by Dr. Juan Michelle Martin, owner of JMM Health Solution and co-creator of the Black Female Foundation, during the recent Net Health webinar. “Looking at my name, most people automatically say ‘Juan,’ which it’s not,” explained Dr. Martin, whose name is pronounced Joo-An. “When I went into an interview, they were surprised to see a female. I came in and faces, mouths dropped. That salary point also dropped by about $25,000.”

Dr. Martin advises that women in physical therapy who face the same shocking bias stand their ground and develop a comfortability with negotiations that are typically associated with men. Women in PT must become more comfortable asking for more—especially when they’re qualified for the salary they’re asking for. “Ultimately, you have to understand who you are, what you’re capable of, and what you can bring to the table for a company,” Dr. Martin adds.

Lack of Self-Advocacy

On the topic of understanding what a woman in PT brings to her company, the panelists of the most recent “Women in Physical Therapy” webinar urge females to advocate for themselves—despite how detailing their achievements makes them feel. All too often, young women struggle writing resumes or answering interview questions in fear that they’re bragging.

Somewhere along the way, many young women have blurred the lines between confidence and conceit, though their male counterparts don’t view it as such. Men in physical therapy are often their own biggest advocates, where women minimize what they’ve done to not come across egotistical. It’s time for women to be proud of the value they bring to an organization.

“Be aware that you should always tell people [your value], you should always say it,” encourages Jamie McCallum Martin, co-owner of Confluent Health and owner of her own physical therapy practice since 1988. “People aren’t following your career, they’re following their own. So make sure that you document your career for yourself and make sure that you’re willing to talk about it.”

Only Education and Communication Can Power Change

There are dozens of challenges shared by women in PT, ranging from barriers to leadership and gender pay disparities to a workplace culture that minimizes work-life balance. The only way to implement actionable changes in the rehab therapy industry is to promote education and communication on these issues.

Open the dialogue in your organization by viewing the latest Net Health webinar, “Women in Physical Therapy.” Join five of the brightest minds in the rehab therapy landscape as they discuss the firsthand experiences of women in PT and how fellow females—and their male counterparts—can begin to break down the barriers once and for all.

Watch Women in Physical Therapy Webinar

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