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Friendly Competition Leads to Collaboration – Part 2

This is the second blog in a two-part series about key partnerships creating greater access to health care and training opportunities in Southern Utah. In September 2023, Michael Good, MD, CEO of University of Utah Health, joined Taylor Randall, PhD, President of the University of Utah, for his second Utah Across Utah Tour. This three-day road trip through Southern Utah with health science educators focused on expanding existing collaborations with industry, alumni, and other Utah colleges and universities to address rural health care.

Mining Natural Opportunity 

When the University of Utah began expanding partnerships with educational institutions in southern Utah, the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program was a natural place to start.

The active lifestyle and demographics of southern Utah puts physical therapy in high demand. Many university students are drawn to the profession.

One of these students is Jessica Bills, who will graduate with her DPT degree in 2026.

Jessica is currently a first-year student in the three-year program. A team of dedicated advisors guided Jessica through her undergraduate education in exercise science at Utah Tech University in St. George. Jessica used that experience to prepare for successful admission into the DPT program. 

She proactively sought leadership and volunteer hours, journaled her experiences, and learned everything she could about getting into her program of choice.

Dual-Campus Instruction and Experience

The DPT program is intricate and multi-faceted. It now reaches students through three learning pathways. Program applicants can choose from on-campus studies at the U’s Salt Lake City campus or designated space at Utah Tech. Students may also opt to be part of a far-reaching hybrid (online) cohort.

Jessica Bills-DPT Cohort
First-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student Jessica Bills, BS, showing her University of Utah pride.

DPT students are immersed in the education experience no matter where they are. Classes are broadcast from University of Utah and Utah Tech sites. Faculty are on-site in both locations facilitating class discussion and equal participation. 

Salt Lake City faculty travel to St. George several times a semester to teach in person. This allows all students to experience both in-person and virtual instruction. Students in the remote-learning pathway have designated lecture faculty and are invited to visit the Utah campuses during specific hands-on instruction periods. 

For Jessica, taking classes on the Utah Tech campus feel like she’s in the Salt Lake City classrooms—with the added bonus of staying close to home. Professional adjunct professors are present in the classroom there. Students from both campuses participate equally in lectures. 

Distance learning doesn’t feel distant because students can work in breakout groups with students from both cohorts. They also receive prompt attention from their professors over email and during in-person sessions. 

DPT professors are tight-knit and student-focused. Most are still active physical therapists. They’re eager to engage with students and help connect them to professional opportunities. 

Jessica feels supported by a team of faculty and program designers rooting for her. “[They] set us up to be successful because they really want us to get back out into our communities and make an impact,” she explains.

Local Ties Bridge Institutions, Build a Pipeline

Our academic programs and clinical institutions are interconnected. We genuinely care about student success. When students start their journey, they’re not sure what they’ll become. Advisors encourage them to keep their options open and gain a wide breadth of experience.   

The program aims to move students through local southern Utah schools and higher education institutions when compatible programs are available. Inter-campus relationships are a high priority. Enhanced communication between programs helps students prepare to move between campuses as they create their own careers.   

We want to make education accessible to a range of students. And we’re making connections in the local communities we’re trying to serve. The deeper and more abundant our connections, the stronger our impact can be. Many of the students who learn in southern Utah want to stay there.

U of U DPT Class of 2026
St. George Residential first-year DPT students (Class of 2026) attend orientation at the University of Utah Salt Lake City campus before starting their first semester of classes.

Students Staying Local

Jessica’s decision to attend the U was influenced by our reputation for excellent health care and innovation. Another factor in her choice was the opportunity to network with U students and alumni during her shadowing and clinical hours. Seeing them in action made it easy for her to connect her career desires with meaningful education. 

This type of bridge programming was particularly appealing to Jessica as a long-time resident of St. George, Utah. The chance to move directly from her undergraduate studies into advanced education programming—without leaving her hometown—was convenient and motivating. 

In the future, we hope to further expand existing partnerships among Utah institutions. We know success for the U doesn't only happen at our main campus. Great education can happen anywhere.

Eric Belair

Eric Belair, BS

Eric Belair is a graduate student coordinator for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Utah. Previously, Belair was an academic advisor for health and human performance at Utah Tech University. He formed key partnerships that support ongoing collaboration between Utah Tech and the U. He is the co-founder of the Center for Adaptive Sport & Adventure. Belair received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Dixie State University. He’s currently completing a master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis at University of Purdue Global.  

Jessica Bills

Jessica Bills, BS

Jessica Bills is a first-year student in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Utah. Bills grew up in St. George, Utah, and completed a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science with Pre-Physical Therapy Emphasis at Utah Tech University. She plans to return to southern Utah to practice physical therapy and continue building strong local connections for Utah Tech University and the U .  

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