Diversity Story Slam: Rob Landel

Rob Landel portrait
Rob Landel MS ’84, DPT ’96/Photo: John Skalicky

I Told You So


MY STORY INVOLVES A STUDENT FROM SOME YEARS AGO, early in my teaching career. A Chinese native, she was an A-student, quiet in class, but doing quite well.

So imagine our surprise when she failed her first clinical rotation. It just didn’t jive with her excellent performance in class. Her clinical instructor said she was unable to verbally justify her treatment choices and was having trouble connecting with her patients.

I met with her to find out what went wrong. The meeting started well, with her stating her case clearly and concisely. As we talked, the conversation veered off into other areas, and she started having trouble communicating. It dawned on me that she had carefully scripted and rehearsed her discussion with me, in English. The further we got off script, the more difficulty she had communicating with me.

First lesson learned: Not everyone can communicate like you do. English was her second language, and it just wasn’t strong. Looking back, it seems obvious. My only defense is: I was young then.

Second lesson learned: How amazing was it that she was pulling all A’s in her classes?

Think back to when you took a language class. You can remember the difficulties you had learning that language, right? Well, how do you think you’d do learning two languages at the same time? Consider that entering a physical therapy program requires you to learn a new language — multiple languages, really: anatomy, physiology, physics and so on, plus the “jargon” of our profession. She was doing that while translating everything into Chinese, and back into English!

Despite her academic success, I just couldn’t see her being successful in the clinic and finishing the program. How can you be a physical therapist without talking with your patients? I went as far as to suggest perhaps a different career path would be appropriate. She wasn’t too happy with that. She was determined, and despite my reservations she went out on her next clinical rotation.

A wiser person than me placed her at a medical center in a community where the primary patient population spoke Chinese. Lo and behold, not only did she pass, but she flourished!

Third lesson learned: I’m not as smart as I think I am, and I can’t tell the future.

At her commencement ceremony more than a year later, after walking across the stage and receiving her diploma, she marched up to me, looked me in the eye, and said in perfect English: I told you so!

—Rob Landel