Julia Black ’20 arrived at Collège Saint-Benoît knowing that she wanted to become a physiotherapist. So, as a freshman, biochemistry seemed like a logical major. And it was. But was that his only option?
Through volunteer and shadowing experiences in physiotherapy, she learned the importance of competent and respectful communication to provide high-quality patient-centered care. And Black felt a personal call to help underserved populations. So, after reflection and several meetings with her advisor, Julia decided to follow her instincts and reorient her major towards Hispanic studies. By earning the Hispanic Studies degree, along with study abroad experience in Chile, Black gained the knowledge and skills to work effectively with a more diverse patient population. And she was able to do it in just three years.
Today, she has become one of the youngest members of her class in Briar Cliff University’s PT graduate program in Sioux City, Iowa.
During his first two years of teaching and didactic work at Briar Cliff, Black helped found the North Central Regional Pro Bono Network Consortium. Under the auspices of the university, Black served as the first coordinator of the network, which takes referrals for area residents for whom English is not their first language – at no cost to those without a insurance or who have exhausted their benefits.
Black, who also studied abroad in Spain, often provided first-hand care under the supervision of licensed professionals at Briar Cliff PT Clinic.
“Our patient outcomes accelerated as soon as people were heard and received the care they deserved,” Black said. “Patients were spreading the good news about our clinic to all their friends and family. We were seeing so many people and it wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have that language ability. Think if you went to a country where you didn’t speak the language right now and you had a problem and you had to solve it and you had no idea what people were saying. Does that mean you deserve less attention than someone else? »
The pro bono clinic is one of more than 100 student-run clinics across the country. It provides care for patients ranging from injury victims to those returning from stroke. In one case, Black helped a Hispanic woman get up and walk after a miscommunication with a doctor left her thinking she would never do it again.
Black is completing her doctorate with five clinical rotations in different parts of the country this year. She will gain experience in rural and urban settings, as well as in sports and hospital settings.
And she encourages other students at CSB and Saint John’s University to consider careers in physical therapy and occupational therapy, regardless of their undergraduate interests.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of students who have come after me, and told them that you don’t have to major in kinesiology or sports science,” Black said. “It helps. But a liberal arts education and language requirement can be valuable in many ways. There’s a reason a broad education is needed. It prepares you for those real-world experiences.
Black said she loved her time in Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s.
“I made so many friends – and I was only there for three years,” Black said. “I wrote about this in my article (in the freshman seminar) – not that it doesn’t matter what you choose, but why it’s important to study what you love. Don’t just do biochemistry because your med school thinks it looks good. I think a big reason I got accepted to Briar Cliff was because I stood out…I had passions that weren’t like everyone else. It is so hard to get into physical therapy school, medical school and occupational therapy school. But Saint Ben’s helped me stand out. You still get your prerequisite courses, you get what you need, but when you do something you love, you’re likely to get better grades and have a better time in school.
And there will be a need for many more people like Black. During the decade of the 2020s, employment of physical therapists is expected to increase by more than 20%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s a much faster pace than most occupations and nationally will account for nearly 50,000 new jobs. Considering they had a median annual salary of $95,000 in 2021, the future could be very rewarding.