Rosedaveia Howell is going places.
That is to say that the two-time graduate from UNLV’s School of Integrated Health Sciences, most recently from the Department of Physical Therapy in 2023, is paving the way for current and future students to be a proud part of their community.
That is also to say that, in the past, she has already been to so many other places.
The first-generation daughter of Caribbean immigrants (her mother from Jamaica and her father from Trinidad and Tobago) was born in New York but lived in Florida and California before coming to Nevada for a chance to attend UNLV.
“I always wanted to work in health care but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “My mom was a single mom and worked as a pediatric occupational therapist. She worked in home health, which was pretty much the only way she could make enough money and still be there for us. I spent a lot of time in home health facilities growing up, so I got to see so much of what she was doing.”
This semi-forced immersion within her mother’s world inspired Howell to pursue a similar path. After her mom moved the family from Southern California to Las Vegas for a better job opportunity, Howell set her sights on UNLV as the first step in her own career in health care.
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree from the athletic training program, Howell applied to UNLV’s physical therapy program. The faculty’s investment in her future, she said, made the difference in her decision to attend.
“Other schools I applied to only wanted to know my numbers, but Dr. [Keoni] Kins really took the time to help me, and that’s what really sold me on the program,” Howell said. “That personal touch really helped me in my decision to choose UNLV.”
As she progressed through the rigorous physical therapy curriculum, however, Howell felt that something important was missing.
“Being Caribbean, there isn’t much representation out here. Not like there was back home,” she said. “Coming to Southern Nevada was a huge culture shock for me.”
Taking Action to Build Networks
Howell received an enormous boost of confidence from Merrill Landers, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy, who encouraged her to bring more of her culture to an environment where she felt it was lacking.
He also worked with her to start the Nevada Chapter for the National Association of Black Physical Therapists, (NABPT) a Georgia-based nonprofit organization focused on increasing opportunities for the African Diaspora in physical therapy.
“There are other Black people who might identify throughout different subcultures of the Black community, so we thought that creating this organization might be a way to help keep us connected,” Howell said. “We’ve been working with the national chapter to recruit more members for Nevada.”
By creating the state’s NABPT chapter, Howell was forced to retreat from her quiet comfort zone to take on the role as leader, a position of which she has flourished.
“Rose is a natural leader," Landers said, "and has led several programs to address inequality within the health care system, including starting a pipeline program for Black high school students, connecting Black undergraduate organizations to physical therapy information, and founding the Las Vegas Chapter of the National Association of Black Physical Therapists. Rose's energy and passion for helping to address the underrepresentation of Black students in physical therapy programs is especially noteworthy, and I am so proud of her efforts.”
Howell’s dedication to making physical therapy a more equitable profession for everyone received the attention of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), who named her as a recipient of their Minority Scholarship Award, the first UNLV physical therapy graduate to be honored with the recognition.
“Getting involved to bring something to Las Vegas was important for me. I wanted to bring physical therapy and Black culture together,” she said. “Even within our profession, Black people can feel isolated, so I wanted to show young kids that PT is also a profession for them if they want to work in health care.”
When Howell isn’t working as a full-time physical therapist in adult acute care at Southern Hills Hospital, she can be found working in the pediatric oncology unit at Summerlin Hospital.
“The oldest patient I’ve had was 97, and the youngest has been six months,” she said with a smile. “I’m able to use all of my skills working with these different patient populations.”
Howell’s UNLV experience pushed her to personal limits she had not comprehended. Her willingness, passion, and determination for a more equitable health care system is making the APTA more aware of UNLV’s efforts as it strives for more diversity within the profession.
And while she is going places professionally, the first-generation daughter of Caribbean immigrants who has lived in four states has no intention of leaving Nevada any time soon.
“My hope is that we can create more opportunities for Black physical therapists to be exposed to different specialties. I want to create something for PTs to develop their leadership skills so they don’t feel like they have to leave Las Vegas to grow,” she said. “We started this chapter because we wanted others to feel involved. Receiving this award from the APTA gave me the peace of mind to remind myself that the hard work I’m doing is making a difference.”