WOC In PT: Sarah Jean-Charles, SPT
Welcome! Today, for the Women of Color in Physical Therapy series, we are featuring Sarah Jean-Charles, SPT. Sarah is a 3rd year doctor of physical therapy student at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA. She is a Haitian American from New York who has a passion for dance and wellness. Sarah’s dream is to open her own practice that celebrates music and culture through functional movement. Without further ado, let’s meet Sarah!
What moment made you decide to pursue physical therapy?
I grew up in a family that was rooted in the medical field. My dad was a doctor and my mom was a nurse. I always knew I wanted to be in a profession where I woke up every day knowing that I can make an impact on someone’s life so medicine was something I knew I wanted to pursue. My only qualm about medicine is that I do not like blood! At the age of 13, I had a passion for soccer. I was playing soccer 7 days a week and killing it! However, during one game I dribbled the ball up the field and went to go cross it when I heard a huge tear. I could barely walk off the field. After getting an X-ray I learned I sprained a ligament in my ankle and had to wear a cast for a month. That was when I got introduced to physical therapy. My PT always made the sessions fun. He somehow incorporated soccer into every session and even took the time out to explain what he was doing and why. When it was time for me to get back on the field, my rehab was so amazing, I was able to get right back to it. That feeling he was able to give to me, helping me return back to what made the 13 year old me, my happiest self, was something I wanted to continue to pass on to others.
Was there a certain challenge you had to overcome as a WOC in PT school and/or at a professional setting and how did you overcome it?
I had a 1.9 GPA my first semester in college. I never thought I would ever be able to say that out loud. It was my first semester away from home and I couldn’t wrap my head around the vigorous coursework. I spent the rest of my college years working my butt off and getting my grades up, volunteering, taking leadership roles, becoming a TA, and re-evaluating my career choice. I honestly thought I no longer even had a chance to become a physical therapist. I desperately sought out mentorship and advice from people in the field on how I can right this wrong. There was a professor in my undergrad who was highly acclaimed in our department, who came to talk to students who were interested in applying to physical therapy school. I told him my situation and as soon as he heard my GPA, he laughed and told me to pick another career path. Needless to say, I’m in the my third year in pursuit of my doctorate and am months away from graduation. The journey has been HARD, very HARD and if I made better life choices, it would have saved me a lot of work in the future, but I wouldn’t change a thing! My advice to anyone who may be in a similar situation, seek out networking opportunities and remember that becoming a physical therapist is about being a human and valuing your patient. You are dealing with people who come to you at the most vulnerable times in their lives, and that is something you can’t learn from a GPA.
What advice would you give to fellow women of color trying to break into the physical therapy profession?
The best advice I could give to women of color or just anyone is to reach out when you know you need help. I am a Taurus, so I am naturally stubborn. I believe that I can do everything on my own and don’t need to ask for help but that is what lead to my downfall. Always reach out when you are struggling. Whether that is to a friend, a family member, a professor, or even a counselor, there are resources out there to help lighten the burden. There are many times in PT school when I felt alone, stressed, defeated, but I always had a strong support system and that is what helped carry me through. I also was fortunate enough to go to a graduate school where the faculty truly cares about their students and go out of their way to frequently check-in.
What woman and/or women do you draw inspiration from?
I am the youngest of 5 girls. I draw my inspiration from my sisters. Whenever anyone asks me what they are like, I always say they are just like me, but a better version. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to watch 4 amazing women grow up right in front of me and I was able to take their advice and learn from their mistakes. They all went to college and some went to graduate school so they were able to understand the highs and lows of graduate school like no one ever could. The bond sisterhood gives you is truly like no other and I know that no matter how far I am from them, they ALWAYS have my back.
In addition to being awesome, what do you like to do in your free time?
Being awesome of course is number one but I love to stay active through workout classes, going for runs, and taking and teaching dance classes. I had the opportunity to teach dance classes on campus so connecting my passion of dance and music in an educational atmosphere helps keep me grounded. I also love hair and creating cute hairstyles. Anyone who knows me knows I cannot keep the same hairstyle for too long.
For the new readers, where can we find you on social media?
You can find me on Instagram @shebeautymarked I would love to connect with my fellow WOC in PT or anyone who may be interested!
Thank you so much to Sarah for sharing her experience being a woman of color in physical therapy! Be sure to follow her at the social media link posted above. :)
If you are a woman of color involved in the physical therapy world, whether you are just starting as a pre-PT or a practicing PT, I would love to feature you in my WOC in PT series! Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay tuned for the next series feature, we have an amazingly diverse group in the mix!
Peace, love & blessings,