We caught up with Dr. Dashaé, PT, DPT, aka @thecurlyclinician, about her experience as a black woman working in the healthcare industry. Read more for her personal insights as well as the impact she’s making as a physical therapist.
Can you talk a little bit about your experience as a black woman working in the healthcare industry?
“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” - Malcolm X
Angry, aggressive, and hostile are just a few of the words used to stereotype black women, and these stereotypes are something I am personally constantly trying to make sure I am not “living up to.”
If something upsets me, I tone down my reaction so I don’t offend anyone. I am overly nice and “people-please,” so people don’t think I’m rude. I feel like I have had to work twice as hard to get half as far as my white counterparts; I have not often felt comfortable expressing my opinions or showing strong emotion along the way.
Microaggressions (“commonplace daily verbal, behavioral or environmental slights, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups”) are also something I’m very used to as a black woman in healthcare. A few I often hear:
I’ve struggled with my identity as a black woman for most of my life. Because I’ve attended predominantly white schools throughout my academic career, I’ve always been outnumbered.
I’ve spent so much time watering down my blackness and pretending to be something I’m not, just to be accepted in society. Worrying that my natural hair may be seen as “unprofessional.” Worrying about my clothing being seen as “too tight” based on my body type.
Eventually, I realized that if I wanted things to change, I could no longer cower behind these preconceived notions. I had to speak up and stop being afraid to be myself. I had to harness my uncomfortable feelings to excel in challenging environments.
Most importantly I had to keep on showing up and bringing my best efforts to the table. It has taken a lot of time and work, but I am finally starting to truly be MYSELF as a healthcare professional. I have fortunately been surrounded by supportive colleagues and leadership and I’ve felt comfortable enough to do so, but this is not the case for everyone.
Why is representation in the healthcare field important?
While shadowing as a pre-PT in a field that is 74% women, I NEVER encountered a black, female PT. Not seeing myself represented in the field I was pursuing honestly sucked. It made me feel like I didn’t belong. Like I wasn’t welcome. Like I didn’t have what it takes to become a PT.
This observation could have very well easily deterred me from applying to PT school, but I instead used it as motivation. Black people make up only 5% of PTs, and research shows that patient outcomes are improved when they have a provider who looks like them.
Having a provider who has similar lived experiences as you can lead to increased trust, compliance, and understanding. It is also so so important for young children to see themselves represented in the career they are interested in pursuing.
You’ve talked a bit on your Instagram about how working in early intervention as a PT allows you to make a positive impact on diverse communities. Can you talk more about that and why that work is so important?
Making a positive impact on low-income, black + brown, and non-English speaking communities is a very rewarding part of my job. As an early intervention PT, I serve all my patients in their homes.
This allows patients that may not have access to PT (due to lack of funds, lack of transportation to a clinic, family work schedules, etc.) to receive the care they need and deserve, in an environment that is familiar, comfortable, and safe.
What advice would you give to people of color (POC) considering going into healthcare?
My biggest piece of advice would be to remember that you earned your role, job title, seat in a program, etc. You don’t have to spend your time “proving” that you belong because you do!
Additionally, you don’t have to involve yourself in diversity/DEI initiatives simply because you are a POC. If that isn’t your calling, there’s nothing wrong with that!
Remember that you shouldn’t be expected to speak for or represent an entire marginalized group. Focus on providing the best care possible to your patients; that’s what matters!
Anything else to add?
As a black female PT, a few of my goals are to:
- Help patients and their families feel safe and heard
- Make meaningful connections with my colleagues and patients
- Be an advocate for black women and other WOC
- Help students from underrepresented minorities learn about the PT profession and other possible careers in healthcare
- Increase awareness and the importance of representation and diversity in ALL fields, especially healthcare
- Help decrease disparities in healthcare
About Dr. Dashaé, PT, DPT
Dr. Dashaé Smallwood is a new-graduate Pediatric Physical Therapist and lifestyle blogger who loves affordable fashion, wellness, home decor, and advocacy. You can keep up with her on her blog, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook.