Written by Rylan Gray

Kiara Thompson, a third-year student in the UAB Doctor of Physical Therapy program was awarded the 2022 SAHPD Student Leadership in Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Award from the Southern Association of Health Professions Deans at Academic Health Centers.

The SAHPD award recognizes students pursuing a degree in a health science profession who exemplify leadership and promotion of diversity, inclusion, and equity. In addition, recipients of this award are acknowledged for their outstanding potential as an impactful leader in health care.

“I’m very overwhelmed but I’ve had a lot of support from my family and the UAB faculty, I wouldn’t be anything without the support that I’ve gotten so it’s less about me and more about those who supported me along the way,” said Thompson.

This award was sent out to the entire School of Health Professions which includes almost 2,500 students. Thompson was encouraged to apply by Patricia Perez, PT, DScPT, OCS, associate professor and director of Student Affairs for the Department of Physical Therapy. Perez plays an integral part in ensuring students have everything they need such as connecting students with resources in the program and searching for scholarship opportunities within and beyond UAB.

Thompson received recommendations from DPT Program Director and Assistant Dean of Faculty Affairs Jennifer Christy, PT, Ph.D., as well as department Chair David Morris, PT Ph.D. She was chosen to represent the School of Health Professions by Dean Andrew Butler.

Because the scholarship is about student leadership in diversity, inclusion, and equity, Thompson felt as though she had to apply. Even before she entered the UAB DPT program, these three pillars were passions of hers.

Group photo standing in front of a window. From left to right is Andrew Butler, Jennifer Christy, Kiara Thompson, David Morris, and Patricia PerezFrom L/R: Butler, Christy, Thompson, David Morris (PT department chair), and Perez“When I found out about this scholarship, I knew it was something I should apply for being that a lot of my background I’ve been developing over the years and while I’ve been here at UAB has really been focused on that,” said Thompson.

Keeping her schedule tight, Thompson is a part of many different programs and organizations. She helps run the Equal Access Birmingham Clinic; a student ran organization that provides continuity of care to the medically underserved. She also works with the Birmingham Firehouse Shelter, a ministry that serves more chronically homeless men than any agency in the state of Alabama. She even volunteers at PD Fight Club, a boxing class that is an exercise program for people with Parkinson’s disease in Irondale, Alabama.

Amongst it all, Thompson also works with other DPT cohorts to help recruit Black students to the UAB program. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Black people only make-up 3.6 percent of physical therapists nationwide. This is in contrast with 12.3 percent of the U.S. population being made up of Black people. Mismatches of this kind are believed to contribute significantly to health disparities to under-represented groups.  In an effort to reverse this disparity, Thompson helped establish the Alabama Chapter for the National Association of Black Therapists.

Born in Tokyo, Japan, Thompson didn’t move to the United States until she was six years old. Being a military kid, she moved around a lot and with that came many different experiences which coincides with who she is today. Being able to absorb and interact with many different cultures since a young age, Thompson has developed a unique perspective that along with her personality, encompasses the three pillars that guide her life.

“Everything diversity, equity, and inclusion – and trying to contribute to that in any way – has been really important to me and is the foundation of my background,” said Thompson.