INDIANAPOLIS — IU Occupational Therapy Assistant Professor Sally Wasmuth is researching racial disparities among clinicians and working on ways to diversify the field.
"We are a diverse world racially, ethnically, in terms of gender. I don't think a predominantly white healthcare profession can adequately meet the needs of a diverse society," Wasmuth said.
According to Wasmuth, the OT field is predominantly made up of white women with some estimates putting it at 90%.
Some of the work Wasmuth is overseeing was turned into a play, "Black Voices in Occupational Therapy." It premiered to a virtual audience Thursday night.
The play was based off interviews from Black occupational therapists and an OT student. They talked about their experiences and challenges they've faced because of their race. It was written by Kelsey Johnson, a local playwright. Johnson explains how a play helps viewers understand complex subjects like racism
"Theater allows for people to watch something happen. They process it for themselves and it still kind of removes them in a way, but they're still able to connect with the fact that these are real stories," Johnson said.
"That's what theater is for. It gives people an opportunity to look within themselves and look within in an area they don't know anything about," Candice Handy, one of the actors in the play, said.
An except from the play is below. It's a conversation between two occupational therapists:
OT 1: "Do people ever act surprised that you're the OT. You walk into the hospital room and they think you're the nurse?"
OT: 2"It used to happen to me all the time when I was younger."
OT:1 "Did it drive you crazy?"
OT 2 "It used to, but then I started letting those types of things bounce off me. I just smile, extend my hand and say, 'oh hello, I'm your therapist.' I work in brain injury. I've been called all sorts of things. The n-word. The b-word. Most of the time, they have brain injuries, so I would say they don't mean it, but they typically don't mean to say it out loud. I've had patients tell me they don't want to work with me because they prefer not to."
The people watching the virtual play were very familiar with all the experiences that were talked about in it. Many of them commented during it that they had witnessed and been on the receiving end of some of the harsh remarks that are part of the daily job for some OTs.
Cierra Milton, an OT student and the person who conducted the interviews the play is based on, said telling these true stories can help create a conversation that ultimately, should lead to change for the better.
"I think finding themes within people's stories also creates a story around the systematic effects of these types of experiences," Milton said.
Wasmuth said the only way to make these problems go away is to address them head-on, educating people about the things they could be doing that perpetuate racism.