UCSF-Morehouse Summer Research Training Program Gains Momentum, Wins UC Funding

Morehouse College UCSF Summer Interns
(from left) DPTRS Professor and Vice Chair for Research Richard Souza, PT, PhD, with Morehouse College mentees, Rodney Gross and Darius Ragland.

This summer, two recent graduates from Morehouse College, a historically Black men’s college, interned with DPTRS as part of the UCSF- Morehouse Summer Research Training Program. Rodney Gross and Darius Ragland joined the program to get hands-on research experience before applying for DPT or PhD programs. The training program – which was selected in July 2023 for funding by the University of California-Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative (UC-HBCU Initiative) – aims to provide a pathway for enrollment into rehabilitation science PhD programs, professional DPT programs or other movement science programs across the country.

Both 2023 interns graduated this year with degrees in kinesiology. Darius Ragland applied for the program because of his interest in becoming a physical therapist or working in sports medicine. “It was a great opportunity to get some hands-on experience and separate myself from other applicants in PT,” he said.

Ragland interned in the lab of DPTRS Professor and Vice Chair for Research Richard Souza, PT, PhD, conducting research on patellofemoral (PFJ) osteoarthritis. capture software and force plates, he helped acquire data at the Human Performance Center, and used Visual3D software to create musculoskeletal models of subjects to better understand how pain and cartilage lesions affect the coordination of lower extremity joints to total work during a sit-to-stand task. “Physical therapy is my main plan, but this experience has made me lean more toward research than I thought I would,” Ragland said. “I can now see myself doing research.” While living in San Francisco was an adjustment – in particular, the summer weather – Ragland said he’s happy he had the experience and highly recommends it for others.

It is vital that we recruit more Black learners in our graduate programs, and improve the pipeline for Black professionals in the rehabilitation workforce. This internship program takes one positive step in the right direction.

Kai Kennedy, PT, DPT

Associate Professor and Vice Chair for Equity

Rodney Gross, who is preparing to apply for DPT programs, learned about the internship through two professors at Morehouse College. Gross interned in the lab of Associate Professor Victor Cheuy, PhD, studying diabetic neuropathy and chronic kidney disease. His research focused on how disease affects how people walk, the bony structure of the foot and the likelihood of amputation.

Initially, coming to UCSF was a bit of a culture shock after attending a predominately Black institution. “I had to find people in my program to really connect with on that level,” Gross said, and he was glad his program coordinator introduced him to the Black Excellence in STEM (BE-STEM) organization. While at UCSF, Gross connected with physical therapists, shadowed at the community clinic at Mission Bay and the Anatomy Lab at Parnassus, and observed physical therapy lectures. “From my experience, UCSF has endless opportunities,” Gross said. He originally didn’t plan on applying to any schools on the west coast, but he is now applying to the UCSF/SFSU DPT program.

Black learners are under-represented in UC graduate and professional programs. The five-year average (2017– 2021) for enrollment of African Americans in UC academic doctoral programs is 4%. The physical therapy and rehabilitation workforce also has an even more extreme shortfall of Black professionals. Although 6.5% of the state’s population identifies as Black or African American, only 2.5% of the physical therapy workforce does so. The scarcity of racially and ethnically diverse physical therapists increases disparities in utilization of rehabilitative care and health outcomes.

A growing body of evidence demonstrates that pathway programs and culturally effective mentorship and advising initiatives are key to diversifying the health care workforce. Our department has been active in developing a comprehensive long-term strategy to recruit, retain and promote a diverse community of scientists, educators and clinicians. The plan includes marketing and outreach to a wide range of stakeholders, including K-12 preparatory educational programs, undergraduate university advisors and student groups, and research advisors at peer institutions.

The admissions process, meanwhile, continues to evolve toward a more holistic and inclusive process that recognizes multiple areas of strength an applicant may possess as well as a variety of articles of evidence that support their application.

“It is vital that we recruit more Black learners in our graduate programs, and improve the pipeline for Black professionals in the rehabilitation workforce,” said Vice Chair for Equity Kai Kennedy, PT, DPT. “This internship program takes one positive step in the right direction.”

“We were thrilled to welcome our interns this summer and look forward to partnering with Morehouse College in the future,” said Dr. Souza. “The diversity of our labs is essential to our research mission of advancing knowledge about human movement and helping all people achieve optimal functioning.”

Help sustain UCSF’s partnership with Morehouse College and make a gift at makeagift.ucsf.edu/DPTRS

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