‘A workforce should be reflective of the population it serves,’ says PT student Haley Boccomino

By Haley Boccomino, Physical Therapy Class of 2022

Haley Boccomino
Haley Boccomino

I was originally drawn to physical therapy because it combined my passion for physical activity with that for helping others. Then, upon entering Wayne State University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, I found myself navigating a new professional landscape — one in which, as a transgender queer person, I felt wildly out of place. 

There were none amongst my faculty nor my peers to whom I could relate. This experience, however, helped me to recognize the severe underrepresentation of minority populations that still exists within our profession.

A firm believer that a workforce should be reflective of the population it serves, I dedicated myself to helping fulfill this community need. As a result, I became involved with program-level efforts, such as IDEA – Inclusivity, Diversity and Equity in Action, as well as leadership of our SAY Detroit Physical Therapy Clinic; college-level efforts, such as WSU Applebaum’s Committee on Diversity & Inclusion; and national efforts, like the American Physical Therapy Association Student Assembly – DEI Project Committee.

Wayne State University DPT students and faculty at the 2022 APTA-MI Student Conclave
Boccomino (front right) with fellow WSU Applebaum DPT students and faculty at the 2022 APTA-MI Student Conclave.

Such efforts were valuable to me as a student, offering the sense of professional community and belonging that I had been yearning for. I soon began working with the Social Justice Student Alliance and authored two articles for The Pulse, the APTA student blog:

• We Owe It to Our Patients – and Each Other – to Honor Pronouns

• Five Ways to Be an LGBTQ Patient Ally

My desire to prevent others from feeling as alienated as I once had continues to fuel my efforts to expand my profession. Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to speak about diversity, equity and inclusion at various seminars — including ones hosted by the DMC Rehabilitation Institute of Michigan and right here at Wayne State University — with the aim of informing current health care professionals on how to best serve minority patients, especially those within the LGBTQ community.

Haley Boccomino with donor Beverly Schmoll
Beverly Schmoll (left) served as WSU Applebaum dean from 2001-08 and established the Physical Therapy Founders Endowment, one of four awards Boccomino received during last month's annual Donors & Scholars Luncheon. Learn more.

It is through these experiences that I discovered my aspirations to become an educator — an ambition that I once regarded as futile due to the lack of transgender representation in my field. In my time as a graduate student, I have acquired amazing mentors who have both supported and inspired me. Upon graduating from the program, I hope to maintain my involvement with the university — and one day, extend that same support to students of my own. 

Physical therapists are licensed and dynamic health care professionals who diagnose and treat individuals of all ages, from newborn to elderly, who have functional limitations, disabilities or other health-related conditions that limit their ability to move and perform activities ranging from daily living to the highest levels of athletic competition. WSU Applebaum’s highly competitive Doctor of Physical Therapy program has awarded $1 million in scholarships over the past three years, offers more than 100 clinical education sites around the globe and boasts a 100% employment rate. Information meetings for prospective students take place at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month.

DPT students and faculty at a Pro Bono Network event
Boccomino (front left) with fellow DPT students and faculty at an event for The Pro Bono Network, which brings together student-run clinic volunteers.

About us

The Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is built on more than 100 years of tradition and innovation in the heart of Detroit. We have grown deep roots in our city, harnessing its powerhouse hospital systems and community service organizations as vibrant, real-world training grounds for students, with an ongoing focus on social justice in health care. And our research at all levels – from undergraduates to veteran faculty members – translates into creative solutions for healthier communities.

Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution offering approximately 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 25,000 students.

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