New faculty member has dual passions – physical therapy and diversity, equity, and inclusion

Briana Partee, PT, DPT, first got interested in physical therapy as a competitive swimmer in high school. She noticed that other members of the swim team were having shoulder issues and she wasn’t. She wondered why and met with an orthopedic surgeon to explore the issue. He told her she would make a great physical therapist. “You’re asking all the right questions,” he said.

Partee then worked as an aide in a physical therapy clinic where her mentor allowed her to build her knowledge about the patients and the treatments they received. When the time came to go to college, Partee completed an undergraduate degree in exercise science and her Doctor of Physical Therapy at St. Louis University in Missouri.

Following graduation, Partee became a physical therapist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. She then joined the Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland as an adjunct faculty member, where she taught classes and was a guest lecturer in multiple departments. While physical therapy was her first passion, Partee also became passionate about working with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). She brings both passions to her new role as an Assistant Professor in the Rehabilitation Medicine Department’s Division of Physical Therapy.

First DEI role
Briana Partee“The U is a good place for me to start my academic career because there are leaders in health equity and antiracism research in the School of Public Health,” said Partee (pictured at left). She noted that the U of M was the first to create a DEI role in physical therapy, followed by Duke and then Washington University.

A key part of Partee’s new role is serving as the DEI Thread Director on the Division’s Curriculum Committee. “We want to look at the curriculum and make sure that we’re integrating DEI principles throughout,” she noted. “That will help ensure that the practitioners and researchers we send out to our communities are knowledgeable and self-aware.” Partee also serves on the Department’s interdisciplinary DEI Committee, under the leadership of Ricardo Battaglino, PhD.

Other critical aspects of her new role include recruiting and mentoring. “The physical therapy workforce in Minnesota is 96 percent White,” said Partee. “As we recruit more students of color from underrepresented communities, they need a little more support to feel like they belong and that their voices are heard.”

Importance of mentorship
Partee received some help over the course of her own career. “I wouldn't be in my new role without the mentoring and sponsorship of Dr. Paula Ludewig,” she said. “She has changed the trajectory of my career and goals for my future. Most people have benefited from sponsorship in some form or another to advance in their professional lives. The recognition of its power leads many of us to focus on ensuring that we have sponsors who will amplify, boost, connect, or defend us. I am so lucky to have someone like Dr. Ludewig who is genuinely committed to social equity and diversifying the workforce.”

As she kicks off her new role, Partee has been meeting with underrepresented students when they come into the department and setting up checkpoints with them. “Our hardest class is anatomy, which is at the beginning of the semester, so I check in with them weekly,” she said. “I ask them what mentoring looks like for them, will it be helpful, and are they interested in it? Everyone is different. Some people don’t need extra support.”

Growing your own
Because Partee has mentored students from different backgrounds across the country, she has learned a key principle in increasing faculty diversity – you have to grow your own. “You don’t magically get PhDs who want to come to a Big 10 university,” she said. “You have to work with students from the start, guiding them, showing them leadership roles they should take on to get to where they’re aspiring to go.” She also believes that providing financial support for diverse students helps make the decision to come to the U of M easier.

Partee is excited about making sure the Division’s faculty and students look like the communities they serve. “Research shows that we get better patient outcomes when we have a more diverse faculty and staff and in the students who go out into our communities,” she said. “I know that the department is dedicated to making changes and bringing in more diverse voices to meet those challenges.”

When Partee has free time, she likes spending it with her three kids. And she is really passionate about photography. “I love taking pictures of my kids,” she said.

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