Historically, healthcare for the queer community was, in a word, damaging. Let’s put aside the fact that homosexuality was itself categorized as a mental disorder until 1973, a fact that still makes us queasy since it means about 20% of Americans alive today grew up in a time when the very best science told them homosexuality was a medical problem.
Let’s instead talk about more recent history and the current state of affairs for LGBTQ health and healthcare. The first big push in opening the door to healthcare specifically designed for the LGBTQ community was during the HIV/AIDS crisis. That disease took decades to gain significant control over. As late as 2010, major scientific research institutes didn’t even know how to identify people in the queer community. Not being identifiable meant limited to no opportunity to obtain funding for research.
Things are getting better. We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere. The world, including the medical world, is catching up. Even so, recent studies have found that many LGBTQ people still experience discrimination in healthcare, some so much so that they avoid seeking care.
What does all of this have to do with becoming a physical therapist? Quite a few things, actually.
Still, LGBTQ people are more prone to a variety of issues with serious health implications, like being victims of hate crimes and bullying, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, unreported domestic violence, unreported sexual assault, and suicide. Some of these issues directly cause pain, while others decrease the person’s ability to heal and move beyond pain.
This is where physical therapists come in. Physical therapists’ jobs are to help people move, exercise and stretch to reduce pain, regain use of their bodies, and allow them to live to the most of their potential.
Especially for people whose voices aren’t always heard, pain management can feel insurmountable. Add physical pain to emotional pain and it can be overwhelming. Too many in the LGBTQ world turn to self-medicating. That is one main reason why substance abuse and addiction rates are so high among gay and trans people.
Physical therapists teach patients not only how to alleviate pain, but how to manage it long-term. Pain management through healthy movement. It might not be part of the formal job description, but you can be sure physical therapists are on the front lines of preventing addiction before it starts.
Last Line of Compassion
Like any theater maven will tell you, the biggest impressions are the first and the last. Physical therapists tend to be the last line of care before patients exit the system and get back to their lives. As such, it’s a key position for making a lasting impression. Especially for folks who have had scary experiences with health providers previously, giving them a safe, compassionate space to do their last leg of healing is a great way to rebuild trust with people who have learned to be skeptical.
There is nothing new about entering a profession to help others as a way to also help yourself. There is true power in using the wisdom and empathy you gained from difficult experiences to help others. Our world needs more healers, and certainly our community does. Ms. Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women in 1896 set a motto that endures, “lifting as we climb.”
LBGTQ folks are underrepresented in too many important career fields. It’s time for us to step in and be publicly present. A physical therapy profession is an opportunity and it’s not out of reach.
Compared to many medical science professions, physical therapy is an accessible career. In total, it takes about six to seven years to get fully educated and licensed to be a physical therapist. Good physical therapy programs will provide flexibility in how classes are set up, to accommodate students’ diverse needs. All that hard work will pay off, literally. The median annual salary of a physical therapist is over $95,000. As an added bonus, you’ve got job security. The U.S. government is expecting the country to need about 20% more physical therapists over the next decade.
Last modified: October 18, 2022