EARLIER THIS YEAR, we held our second annual Diversity Story Slam, where Division community members share personal stories regarding themes of diversity, inclusion and access. This year’s event was held virtually due to ongoing restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are a few of the story slams that took place. You can either listen to the audio files or read the transcripts.
AS A FIRST-GENERATION STUDENT without prior connections in the profession I sought to pursue, my internship at Beaumont Hospital Michigan was significant and my first professional experience within kinesiology.
However, that experience is even more special to me as it was my first opportunity to interact with patients and cemented my passion for helping others through physical therapy.
My time with a particular patient made a significant impression on me, and uplifting conversations I had with her mother motivate me to this day.
This patient was 2-and-a-half-years-old and was born with cerebral palsy.
After each treatment, she made improvements in how well she could grip, how long she kept her head up, whether she could bend her shoulders or elbows and more.
The different methods of treatment for the child intrigued me and with physical improvements I would see her mood and happiness uplifted too.
It was fascinating seeing how interconnected physical therapists, physicians, dietitians and social workers were within cases like this.
Learning from all the different disciplines around me was integral in my development as a health care provider.
The comfort that the physical therapist and I could give her mother and the shine in her eyes, every time her daughter made improvements, made each long workday feel worthwhile.
I became attracted to the intimacy of it all, where the human connection is at its core and struggle, joy, life and death are constantly falling in and out of equilibrium.
Working with neurologically impaired patients was unlike any experience I have had.
It exposed me to a variety of new patient cases and, in particular, a wider range of patients from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Our patient’s mother was constantly struggling to manage the needs of her daughter with the needs of herself.
With the lack of pediatric home care or accessible transportation, I realized the importance of my generation to create socially equitable initiatives to better address patient needs.
The needs of patients and their families extend well beyond their diagnoses and treatment. Finding a way to provide the patient’s mother with free transportation and mental health support was just as integral.
Being able to do so helped to ensure that the patient could continue to receive treatment consistently and make greater progress.
My experiences have helped me understand the importance of interconnectedness and innovation within the field, so that we can work to combat very prevalent health disparities limitations within healthcare access and equity in the care provided.
I believe that only through this understanding of diversity in all aspects can the ultimate change we made within our careers as physical therapists
—Samanta Atty DPT ’23
… SO JUST A HEADS UP: I’ll be using an alias for my patient … for privacy reasons.
So [regarding] the title of my story, “An Honored Adopted Daughter,” my patient, Anna, jokingly adopted me this year and became one of the most special patients I have been able to treat so far in my early career.
During our PT sessions, we laughed, we cried, and we celebrated her successes in recovering from COVID-19.
As soon as we met, Anna said she would adopt me as a third daughter because of how well we connected over culture, food and music in West Africa.
I grew up in a Mexican household with my mom and grandmother, but I was only introduced to my Ghanaian culture for a short time, when I was young, since my dad moved to a different state.
In college, I then dug deeper in understanding my culture, when I joined the Pan African organizations that I became a part of and became close friends with my West African peers.
As I became more knowledgeable and aware of my Ghanaian background, I learned how important both of my cultures meant to me.
I truly value learning about different cultures, as it helped me better understand and connect with myself, as well as with others.
In this instance, taking the time to discuss Anna’s culture led her to feeling comfortable to share some of her worries and fears of being diagnosed with COVID-19.
She shared her feelings of having nightmares from being intubated and left alone in dark rooms by herself.
She talked about the stigma she felt by other staff being afraid to touch her even after being outside of the infectious period, and on standard precautions. She shared how she contracted the virus and the fear of getting it again.
Anna told me she only shared all of this with me because she finally felt comfortable enough with someone to do so.
Anna had been in the hospital for three months and said she never felt like she can share these feelings with any other staff member during her stay in the hospital.
She held back tears for three months, she held back laughter for three months, and she held back celebrating life for three months. These emotions were important for her to discuss and share in order to grow not only physically but also emotionally in her recovery.
This patient relationship solidified my reasoning, as to why representation matters.
Our culture allowed us to connect, and my empathy and compassion allowed us to grow, a strong therapeutic relationship between patient and therapist. Taking the time to share about our backgrounds was important in laying the groundwork for trust to then grow our therapeutic bond.
Anna soon graduated from my care and was able to go home at independent level. Her two daughters were happy to have her home and out of the hospital.
But when Anna left the hospital, she shed her last tears, saying, she would miss me she asked for my phone and email to keep in touch. She said, “When COVID is over, I will take you home to Africa, my daughter.”
Anna is a sweet and hard-working woman, that I am blessed to have met, and I’m honored to have been her adopted daughter.
—Grace (Amoo) Boyd ’16, DPT ’19
Ed. Note: The following story contains thoughts of suicide and could potentially be emotionally triggering for anyone dealing with depression and suicidal ideation. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself by suicide, please contact USC Student Health’s 24/7 hotline at (213) 740-9355.
THE TITLE OF MY STORY IS “You Are Enough.” My parents and their parents emigrated from Hong Kong and brought their traditions and values with them.
Growing up in San Francisco, I was raised to speak Cantonese and English. My family and I never expressed thoughts emotions or feelings freely.
“Why are you crying? Stop crying.”
My sister and I were raised Christian, but we went to a predominantly Caucasian and Catholic middle school and high school because my dad saw it as a good education near where we were living.
Once high school started, my mom noticed that I started to change my demeanor and my clothes.
“Why are you wearing that?”
I essentially stopped speaking Cantonese at home with them, because I was afraid to develop an accent when speaking English, and I wanted to fit in with my peers and be Americanized.
I started to develop muscle from all the sports I was participating in and would only hear comments about my body image at family gatherings.
“Why are you eating so much? Why aren’t you eating? You’re such a disappointment. You are not good enough.”
Many things happened during high school. My younger sister was diagnosed with lupus. My basketball teammates bullied me that I would never get into the college of my dreams.
“Pfft … You aren’t smart enough!”
While my coaches made me feel inadequate because I wasn’t a tall Caucasian girl. If you want more playing time, just get more rebounds, even though I was playing shooting guard.
I started to argue with my family more.
I started to isolate myself from everyone. Even in college, when I was on the track and field team while majoring in science, I felt the need to prove myself, as I was the only Asian-American on the team.
Do I dedicate my time to athletic performance, or do I prove myself in the classroom that I could succeed as an athletic Asian-American?
I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere anymore.
When I say, I had the energy to get through my day to day, I mean I dragged my butt up to get to morning practice only to give 50 percent effort.
I’d then drag my butt to get to class — only to zone out— and all I remember is I couldn’t remember ever feeling that way.
I didn’t notice small changes in my mood, my appetite or energy levels. I couldn’t explain why getting up was so hard, or when friends asked to hang out, I told them I had a scheduling conflict.
I told myself, while lying in bed thoughts racing, I will snap out of this.
I couldn’t stop thinking about everything going on in my life: How worthless I felt, how my relationships were fading because of my situation and how I couldn’t stand living like this.
All of these things kept filling up the bottle I had inside of me. Imagine your mental health as a bottle. The stressors of everyday life is your drink of choice that you pour in —school stress, work issues, family, finances, etc.
Now, imagine that you have little holes at the bottom of the bottle. These are your de-stressors: a support system, a family, friends.
Maybe you work out or meditate. These things help the bottle from overfilling.
Now, imagine an individual with a smaller bottle — whether that is due to trauma or maybe not having a good support system. There are no holes at the bottom or the holes are too small. That bottle is going to overflow.
Because I couldn’t and didn’t know how to express these things to my family or friends, I faced my thoughts of suicide face to face.
Fortunately, I had a very, very good friend who I could talk to, and we were on the phone, while I was contemplating about my life.
She begged me not to do this and said that life was more than what I thought it was She reminded me that my younger sister needed me more than ever, and I had a bright future ahead of me. She said, “You are more than enough.”
I hung up the phone and started the process of ending my life.
Right before I follow through, something my mind changed. How can I be so selfish? How can I let my family down? How can I leave them like this, especially my sister she needs me and I need her?
I sought out therapy and never looked back.
My therapist helped me see that I was enough. I am enough. People will always judge others, no matter what, but I can’t continue to let what others think of me cloud my own perception of myself.
I hope to help my future patients see that they are enough, no matter the diagnosis or other life things happening.
No matter what experience you’re going through, you are enough are the only words I needed to hear when I was going through it. Tell your story and be heard. You are enough.
In light of current events to my fellow Asian Americans, we are enough!
Thank you for listening.
—Cheri Chan DPT ’21
WHILE GROWING UP IN SOUTH KOREA, I was surrounded by family members who showered me with love and care. My large, extended family frequently gathered together at my grandparents’ house to celebrate special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays. One of my favorite memories from childhood is making half-moon shaped rice cakes with my aunts to celebrate the Korean Harvest Festival. During my childhood, these caring relationships that my parents had built with people around me shaped my familial values and provided me a life sheltered from difficulty and fear.
When I moved to the U.S., it was as though a significant part of my life had been taken away. Even though I still had my parents and my older sister, I no longer had my grandparents, relatives, neighbors, and friends who were there to support and care for me. I had to quickly adapt to the new responsibilities and accept my new identity as the first son of an immigrant family. My parents, who had always provided me guidance and reassurance, struggled with uncertainty and anxiety about starting a new life. I grew to empathize with my parents who were frustrated with language barriers and learned to be the shoulder they needed when they didn’t have anyone else to rely on. Some of my duties as a 10-year-old included being a translator for my parents, visiting the DMV office, calling in utility bill inquiries, and other difficult tasks that my friends did not have to worry about. These challenges not only redefined my familial values, but also forced me to leave the shade of my parents’ protection and serve as an anchor for my family.
During the last 15 years, my family continued to adjust to the new environment and strived for a sense of “belonging”. My dad worked countless hours as a textile engineer and supported me and my sister through graduate school. We bought a cookie cutter home in Orange County and adopted a cocker spaniel named Obi. My parents became involved in the community and learned to navigate through difficult tasks on their own. We finally felt at home and the “American Dream” seemed to be within our reach.
However, I quickly realized that my sense of “belonging” is only temporary and the fear and anxiety as an immigrant is something that I have to embrace for the rest of my life. Speaking the language and learning the culture do not free us from being labeled as foreigners. I recently had a firsthand experience of the growing hatred toward Asian Americans while eating outdoors in Santa Monica after my clinical rotation. A stranger threw a rock at the back of my head while yelling racial slurs, then drove away. Luckily, he missed but I was at loss for words. I had only seen these things happen on the news and I never thought that I could be a potential victim. Furthermore, I was more worried for Asian American elders in my community, like my parents, who are the primary targets of hate crime attacks because they are not fluent in English and are unable to defend themselves.
As I watched a 52-year-old woman in Flushing, Queens being pushed to the ground on the news, I cannot help but to imagine my mother being in that woman’s place. To make matters worse, my heart dropped when I read on the news that at least four of the deceased victims during the Atlanta spa shootings were Korean women in their 60s and 70s. These women were my mother’s age, and this is the similar type of spas that my parents enjoy going to: a cultural place, a resting place, and a healing place. The idea that my parents who have sacrificed and worked so hard to finally call this place a “home” can be pushed, shoved, and attacked at any moment is frightening. And all I ask is that everyone, not just Asian Americans, recognize the severity of the issue and stand together with us to defeat hate. We must work together to protect and empower one another during this time of vulnerability because hate can only be overcome by love. Thank you.
—Paul Kim DPT ’22
THERE ARE JUST SOME PATIENTS YOU NEVER FORGET, and for me Wayne is one of those patients I’ll never forget, because letting him down is something that bothers me to this day.
Although I wasn’t the one to do his IE [initial evaluation], Wayne was my first patient who I got to take through his entire plan of care.
A sweet retired 68-year-old man referred to PT for frequent falls, he had been coming in twice a week with his granddaughter.
And after the first week, Wayne’s granddaughter felt comfortable letting him stay alone for his PT sessions, now that I was there to aid my CI [clinical instructor]; together we were able to progress him and challenge his balance more than originally planned.
I didn’t know much about Wayne, but I always look forward to seeing him on the days he would come into clinic.
Although he wouldn’t talk much, he was always active in his plan of care, constantly telling us what exercises felt easier or what stretches felt tighter.
His desire and dedication to become stronger was evident by his weekly improvements. During his last week of PT, my CI allowed me to take care of him for the full hour without supervision.
While stretching himself, he cried out in pain, because he suddenly caught a cramp.
Now I should preface this that my CI at the time was a strong advocate about preserving our bodies and insisted that patient stretch themselves.
But when Wayne cramped, I helped him relax and took over the stretches for the rest of the session. Something was different.
In that moment, his entire attitude changed. His smile was bigger, he talked more often, and he didn’t seem to want to leave.
At the end of that day, he gave me a big hug and thanked me. As he walked to the exit, he would stop occasionally to wave and check if I was looking.
On the day of his discharge, he began recognizing how much improvement he actually made. He was so excited.
He then asked if I thought he would be able to return to his hobby of net fishing, and this was the first time I’d ever heard about fishing.
When I asked when was the last time he had gone, he said, a year ago and that he used to go every weekend before his wife passed away that same year. Instantly, I felt like I failed my patient.
I asked him if he would want to continue and he said, “Yes,” then I asked my CIif we could change his discharge plan to a renewal, and she insisted that we just discharge him.
He was clearly disappointed, eye contact shifted towards the ground, the eager voice became quiet again. But he tried one more time, asking how he could communicate with his MD [medical doctor about a different referral for PT so that he could come back, but my CI said, there was no need.
It was then that I realized it didn’t matter how much we improved his balance. We didn’t work on anything truly meaningful, and I instantly felt guilty.
Many of the patients we discharge were chronic visitors — those who suffered from a chronic injury chronic pain, or just wanted to come in once or twice a year as maintenance.
Yet, this was a tragic case where my CI was no longer giving equal care to this group of patients, and I was complacent and following her lead.
Health equity is defined as the absence of unfair avoidable differences in health among population groups either socially, economically, demographically or geographically. I hadn’t recognized this because this disparity of patients wasn’t socioeconomic, their ages were all different and races we’re all different, but yet all of them suffered from some chronic condition, and we let them down.
We learned in school to advocate for our patients, and I couldn’t, and we learned to stand up for any inequality and biases, but I didn’t.
And how, how could I question or the authority of someone who had so much more experience, but I could. I froze when the opportunity to better someone’s care was presented to me.
And yet I know now that students, no matter what year of PT school [you’re] in, have the power to ensure quality healthcare to all populations.
—Rachel Miyoga DPT ’22
GOOD EVENING EVERYONE. This is my story slam. The year was 1996. It was winter in New York. For a few months, I had been waking up at four o’clock in the morning to deliver the New York Times.
At the time, when I asked my mother about the prospect of driving to school, she said, “Sure, if you help me pay for the car insurance,” so getting a job was a no brainer. Driving to school once in a while, made the 4 a.m. struggle worthwhile.
This particular day started off the same as many other winter days. I left ahead to get the car warmed up and ready for the day.
As soon as I arrived, I opened the passenger door, and I leaned into the backseat. Suddenly, everything turned black, and I felt my body swung out of the car.
I don’t know how long it took for me to make sense of what was happening. As I became more conscious, I remember feeling my face pressed down against the hood of another car, and two policemen screaming, while holding me down with my hands behind my back.
I remember trying to speak but unable to get any words out.
I hadn’t thought about that experience in many years and never shared this story with anyone outside my family until last summer.
Watching the death of George Floyd on my phone brought back vivid flashbacks from that experience. I wept that night and many other nights after seeing the constant reminders of racial injustice and hate.
That video and those memories played simultaneously in my head for weeks like scenes from the same recording.
Last summer’s events brought up clarity about the reality and parallels between that experience and Mr. Floyd’s death.
I realized I had been oblivious about racism in America and how it has impacted my life.
For years, I internalized that experience and many others. I elaborated narratives and accepted my assumptions as challenges all immigrants probably face like trying to assimilate into a new culture.
Those summer months were terribly emotional and uncomfortable — only to be followed by feelings of helplessness around inaction and more hate around the country.
I struggled frequently with the dilemma of being socially responsible or protesting injustice alongside other Americans.
However, seeing all those people marching daily filling the streets with outrage, and support for Black and brown lives filled me with pride and hope.
Seeing them placing their lives at risk, protesting injustice in the middle of a pandemic, pushed me to reflect on my role as an American, as a physical therapist and a health care provider.
Seeing their courage motivated me to speak up about the parallels of structural racism and disparities I often encounter within our own health care system.
I decided to speak up about the great numbers of Spanish-speaking patients I often see being kept oiut of participating in their own care by being provided services and education in a language that they do not understand.
Additionally, it motivated me to bring attention to our role in perpetuating inequities by preventing our patients from communicating their needs via consistent interpreter services.
Sharing my experience and my journey over the past year hasn’t been easy. I’ve hesitated many times because of how raw and exposed I feel every time I speak about it.
However, sharing this journey has helped me articulate some of the challenges that I see our Brown and black patient face across the healthcare system and not only bring attention to it, but also help to enact change.
I’ve come to discover the power of sharing my story, and found opportunities to address helplessness with action and help from others.
During the past seven months I have been working closely with colleagues on a project that directly addresses this issue within the liver transplant patient population.
This project has not only started to shift our culture within our physical therapy department, but it’s also providing us with data that support the great need of interpreter services and the impact of language and hospital readmission rates.
Learning about racism this past year has unsettled me to my core.
It has brought me to face directly a reality that has been endured for centuries by Black and brown people in this country.
And I had been oblivious to it.
However, along with this new awareness, I’ve come to see opportunities for understanding the ingrained issues we need to tackle together to see significant change in our society.
This past year has proved to me I’m not alone in that journey.
And for that, I’m optimistic.
Instructor of Clinical Physical Therapy
GROWING UP, I HAD A SENSE THAT I WAS SOMEHOW DIFFERENT from others, but I didn’t really know that part of that was my race or ethnicity.
The desire to fit in manifested itself into a very shy quiet girl that kept her head down at school and did her work, which was great in terms of what I was able to accomplish, but it came with the consequences of feeling like I had a lot of missed opportunities and a high level of insecurity, because I was afraid to be myself.
I grew up in Southern California, with two older sisters, a mom and a dad.
My parents emigrated from Peru over 30 years ago, and I’ve always admired them for their tireless work ethic and good faith through the adversity I know that they faced as immigrants.
Despite my admiration for my family and our roots, I had a strange relationship with the Spanish language. Even though I lived in a fairly diverse neighborhood, my small social circle didn’t have any other Latinos in it.
Because of that, I remember being really shy about letting others hear me speak to my parents in Spanish. I also had to grow into accepting my name, which I always thought sounded pretty in the Spanish language but was so uncomfortable and unique in the English language.
There was nothing more embarrassing for me as a kid than the constant mispronunciation of my name in the classroom at awards assemblies and graduation ceremonies.
And I’ll never forget the time a girl in my class asked if she could just call me “Val,” because she said, my name was too hard to pronounce.
She and I never got along after that. Eventually, though, I did start to go by Val, and I still do because it was a name I adopted from my friends, who I knew were calling me that out of love and not because they were inconvenienced by pronouncing those three additional syllables.
It wasn’t until I was in undergrad when I became friends with more Latinos who I felt comfortable speaking to in Spanish.
Ironically, I didn’t meet most of them in my classes. I met them while working in the university dining halls because we all shared a similar economic need to work while in school.
It was around that time that I started to acknowledge there was a lot about me that I wasn’t fully aware was affecting my confidence or my trajectory for a future career.
I left undergrad feeling lost because I didn’t have any mentors or role models who were going to guide me to the next step.
And when I decided to become a physical therapist it happened out of curiosity and Googling about the profession, not because I had the experience of knowing any PTs that would help me visualize myself in that role. I honestly couldn’t imagine myself in any professional roles.
What I found most daunting about the process of applying to PT schools was how much I had to step outside of my comfort zone and again put myself in a position where I felt different.
Every place I volunteered — even in San Diego — which is just a short drive from the Mexican border, I was always the only Latina in the clinic.
Again, I faced the discomfort of not having my name pronounced correctly by both clinicians and patients, but this time I knew that I couldn’t let the discomfort discourage me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get to where I wanted to be.
I’d like to say that these feelings of isolation and discomfort have been resolved since starting my education here at USC, but they haven’t.
Even though I’m grateful to my peers for giving me the chance to share my experiences and be true to my identity, the reality is that the therapists I work with and the professors don’t commonly look like me.
And on my most recent clinical rotation, I was struck with the most uncomfortable experience so far in my life when I overheard a conversation, just a few feet away from me, about white supremacy and disdain for the Black Lives Matters movement in a clinic where, once again, I was the only person with brown skin.
After reflecting on my experiences I’ve come to appreciate just how much representation matters in our field.
Diversifying the field has to start by providing the necessary guidance to those making career choices without any mentors or close examples of who they can grow up to be.
I want young people with similar experiences to mine to visualize a future in my shoes and be empowered to seek their true potential much sooner than I was able to.
Even though my confidence and my pride in my Peruvian roots have grown since I was a kid, I still bear the wounds of experiencing these feelings of not belonging and sometimes revisit moments of wanting to hide from uncertain uncomfortable realities.
Nonetheless, the efforts I see from our Division and from all of you for taking the time to grow in your understanding of our diverse experiences gives me hope.
Thank you for listening.
—Valeria Valdiviezo DPT ’22