WebPT co-founder launches scholarship for future BIPOC physical therapists

physical therapists

Rizing Tide Foundation, launched in 2020 by WebPT co-founder Dr. Heidi Jannenga, has announced it will grant five scholarships to aspiring physical therapists in underrepresented communities. 

Each of these scholarships will fall under one of two categories of physical therapy (PT) students. The Crest Scholarship will be awarded to three PT undergraduate students who are going on to attend graduate school or physical therapy assistants entering a bridge PT program. The Surge Scholarship will be awarded to two graduating Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students or established PTs, who are entering an accredited residency program.

Crest Scholarship recipients will receive up to $14,000 a year, which can be renewed twice. Surge Scholarship recipients will receive a one-time award of up to $10,000. Each scholarship winner will be selected on merit by a committee of experienced physical therapists.

Heidi Jannenga, Rizing Tide Foundation Founder

Jannenga, who’s got 25 years of experience as a practicing physical therapist, founded the Rizing Tide Foundation as a way to give back to the community. But it wasn’t until a few months later that she decided to create scholarships for BIPOC students wanting to become PTs. 

Jannenga’s decision was influenced both by her own experience as a daughter of immigrants — her dad was an Austrian immigrant and her mom was born in Hawaii to Japanese immigrants — and by the significant civil unrest that was spreading across the country. She knew she wanted to make a difference for underrepresented minorities. Jannenga calls physical therapy a “hidden gem of a profession,” and she wanted to give the opportunity to those who may not initially consider pursuing that career path. 

Jannenga believes that the PT industry should more closely mirror the United States population in general. Currently, nearly 40% of the U.S. population identifies as BIPOC, but only 22.2% of employed PTs identify as BIPOC. Not only that, 49.95% fewer BIPOC applicants who use Physical Therapist Application Service are accepted into a program compared to their white counterparts,  according to American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

Additionally, PT programs are generally expensive. Students could come out of post graduate school at least $100,000 in debt. The cost is a lot for anyone, but could be especially hard to pay as a minority. Jannenga chose her scholarship amounts to alleviate some of the financial burden while still requiring students to earn their degree. For example, $14,000 is about half of the cost of an average DPT program. 

Jannenga emphasized that physical therapy patients deserve to feel represented by their healthcare provider. She wants to help make this happen.  

“There’s no question a diversity gap exists in the PT space, and it’s to the detriment of our patients who want to see themselves in their providers,” said Jannenga in a statement. “It’s my sincere hope that Rizing Tide and our initial cohort of scholarship winners will be the start of a growing community dedicated to bringing awareness to this issue in PT, and the beginning of institutional change.”

The deadline for this year’s Crest Scholarship is this Friday, Aug. 20, and the Surge Scholarship deadline is Nov. 1. Applicants can apply here.