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Arnold School of Public Health

August graduate leaves mark on program by co-founding cultural, diversity group for physical therapy students

July 30, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

“The UofSC Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program is awesome,” says Seattle, Washington native Emma Mitsui. “It’s hard – you need a lot of dedication and resilience – but the faculty are so caring and helpful and will be there if you ask them. They’re also receptive to and supportive of new ideas.”

Mitsui’s idea was to create a student-led group called CULTURE (Cultivating Unified Lives Through Understanding, Reflecting, and Educating). She and co-founder/fellow DPT student Fei McMahon got the idea from some DPT students at another university and decided to launch a similar program at the Arnold School.

“Our main goal was to facilitate discussions on topics such as implicit biases, cultural humility, health inequities, and patient/client diversity and how physical therapists can address these issues,” says Mitsui, who worked with McMahon to lead group discussions and coordinate guest speakers. “It was incredibly helpful for me to find those resources and work through how I, as a future physical therapist, can be intentional about being inclusive, respectful, and accommodating so I can honor each of my patients and their life experiences.”

Mitsui discovered public health when she took some courses as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington. She became interested in the intersection of health and social justice and decided to pursue a career in physical therapy.

“I liked the combination of tangible help we can offer people to improve their physical function and quality of life, and that we take each person’s background, their level of stress, their access to resources and their general experiences into account as we craft their plan of care,” Mitsui says. “We have the opportunity to spend time with them and get to know them and what they need.”

She was drawn to the Department of Exercise Science’s DPT program for its small class size and boutique approach to learning as well as the extensive clinical opportunities and collaborative environment. These attributes resulted in close mentorships with several faculty members, including clinical associate professor Alicia Flach, who encouraged and participated in the CULTURE group. 

“Through all these relationships I’ve seen the impact that can be made through having a clear passion for what you’re teaching, creativity, openness to pranks and jokes, and creating an open environment to ask questions,” says Mitsui. “Those are all lessons I hope to carry into my clinical work.”

After gaining experience as a physical therapist, the August graduate would like to guide future students as a clinical instructor. Long term, Mitsui plans to participate in a mentorship program to help diversify the field and encourage more BIPOC+ students to pursue careers in healthcare.

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