WOC in PT: Chelsea Van, SPT
Welcome! Today, for the Women of Color in Physical Therapy series, we are featuring Chelsea Van, SPT. Chelsea will be a 1st year PT student at Dominican College of Blauvelt. She is very excited to immerse herself into everything that the world (and New York City) has to offer! The DPT program at Dominican is hybrid, allowing Chelsea, a non-traditional student, to compete and coach Muay Thai, and serve on the board of Warrior Sisters, a non-profit dedicated to providing free self-defense to women and girls. Without further ado, let’s meet Chelsea!
What moment made you decide to pursue PT?
It was one morning at work, back when I was a domestic violence advocate, that I knew I needed to become a physical therapist. We'd have these great morning meetings where I'd facilitate teaching life skills and tools for self-efficacy, and more and more clients would ask about exercises and tips to relieve pain. I already have a love for movement because of sports, and I knew how to coach body mechanics from self-defense, so it was natural for me to teach. The transformations I saw as these women learned to move beyond fear were huge wins; I wanted more of that. Physical therapy perfectly encapsulates pain science, trauma and recovery. I know that becoming a PT will help me better serve my community
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 haven't started PT school yet, but back when I was in undergrad I had a lot of insecurity and generational trauma to overcome. I didn't feel like I could relate or talk to anyone, and it hurt me. I failed out my first year because I isolated myself and stopped going to classes. I remember showing up for my final, flunking it, and the teacher's assistant encouraging me to get help. I'm a huge mental health advocate, especially within communities of color where there can be a stigma in asking for help. When I chose my schools, I made sure to vocalize my values and sought out a diverse, supportive program.
What advice would you give a fellow WOC trying to break into the PT profession?
Create a support group, find a mentor, and talk to other WOC in physical therapy and similar professions. Remind yourself that you are essential. There will be moments where it feels like the system doesn't consider you. Do not let that discourage you, instead take advantage of it and change it from the top. What you are doing is important and your presence here is essential.
What woman/women do you you draw inspiration from?
Amanda Nguyen is QUEEN. She's Vietnamese-American like me, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, an activist, survivor, and genius astronaut. I'm also so lucky because I have my mom, five older sisters, wise niece, and two best friends that I draw inspiration, advice, humility, strength, and support from.
In addition to being awesome, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love to have adventures where I might spontaneously go explore someplace or try an activity that I've never done before. I plan and schedule my studies and work down to the half-hour, so it's a really nice mental break for me to just release and experience life. I'm actually taking a two-week road trip across the country until school starts!
Where can you find me on social media?
If you wanna geek out with me, hit me up! I'm best on Instagram, @drivethevan. On Facebook, my full name is Chelsea Elexis Van.
Thank you so much to Chelsea 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,