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Pitt DPT Hybrid students taking a break from immersion to have some fun with their new community of friends and future colleagues

Pitt DPT Hybrid students taking a break from immersion to have some fun with their new community of friends and future colleagues 

“It's amazing. One of the things that we found at the first immersion was that we didn't know each other, and we were nervous. But the very first moment that we entered the building, everybody was calling each other, and you felt like we were just a big family. We got so close and helped each other that it never felt like we were lacking close relationships and friendships. Now when we go back it feels even better, because we see each other on Zoom, but we think, ‘Oh, I remember that person.’ It's really good. And having the opportunity to practice again, what we already did three or four times before coming here, it's just the best way to reaffirm everything that we're learning.”  

– Elena Luna Espinoza; Fort Worth, TX; DPT ‘24

When the University of Pittsburgh Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Hybrid students gather in-person for the immersion experiences, they aren’t coming together to just check off boxes from the program’s curriculum and move themselves one step closer to graduation. As they start to arrive and see each other in the hallway, it’s all high-pitched whoops, backslaps and running hugs as they celebrate reuniting with members of their DPT Hybrid family who have become an integral part of their learning community. 

“It’s so helpful to have a community of people who are also on the same track. We’re all doing the same thing and have the same goals so why not help each other get to those goals.”  

-- Katrina Ortiz; Pittsburgh, PA; DPT ‘24

First year DPT Hybrid students practicing cardiovascular assessment by listening for heart sounds

First year DPT Hybrid students practicing cardiovascular assessment by listening for heart sounds

Program Director Kim Nixon-Cave and the Pitt Physical Therapy faculty have designed the DPT Hybrid program with the clear intention of building a community of learning--online classes and in-person immersions are the instruments bringing it together. The blend of interactive online classes, breakout and study groups, and top Pitt faculty are the first step in forming those initial relationships that deconstruct the assumption that hybrid learning can be detached and a less valuable experience.  

“The program takes me out of my comfort zone because, yes, we are behind a computer and we are seeing the different faces online and we don't really know who we are talking to, but when we come to immersions it's like, "Oh my gosh! You're that person in my class!" It builds a community and a family within your family. That's what I love about the hybrid program.”  

-- Tamoya Brown; Jamaica and New Jersey; DPT ‘24

Second-year students performing an assessment of the wrist

Second-year students performing an assessment of the wrist

The in-person immersions are the second and most important step where students find that sense of belonging in a supportive, diverse community of likeminded peers and mentors. Students are able to socialize in-person and support each other throughout the program’s intensity and successes, which reinforces the bond that they are all in this together. The end goal is for them to graduate and continue to support each other as future colleagues and professionals.  

“One of the things I always talk about is this community of learning. I see that in the hybrid program with the students. It probably takes that first immersion for us to get there because we're not together for the first month. But when they come in and they experience that first immersion, you see a totally different group of students when they come back. They have found friends. They found study groups. They found people who they connect with socially. It becomes this real community, and students say to each other, ‘This is what I learned. Let me show you,’ or ‘Let’s study together.’”

-- Kim Nixon-Cave; New Jersey; program director and professor, DPT Hybrid Program

Before they know it, social and study groups have formed among the cohort as they are swept up in the common drive to succeed and fulfill their career goals. A group of students dubbed “The Michigan Seven” created their own online study group and have traveled within their home state to visit each other and gain additional skill practice with one another. Even in Pittsburgh, local hybrid students have met together at the Pitt Bridgeside Point Physical Therapy facility after hours to study and review class material together. They all recognize the value of having peers who can be a valuable source of information, feedback and support. 

Adjunct faculty Janeen McNeal instructs students on cardiovascular assessment.

Part of Something Bigger

The confluence of Pittsburgh’s three rivers also brings together students and faculty from all corners of the U.S. and several countries. They learn from others outside of their geographic, economic and cultural regions. Like fitting together the pieces of a giant puzzle, they soon discover that they are part of something bigger. Nixon-Cave observes that this special gathering of diverse students shapes them as future health care providers: 

“I do think they'll be more empathetic. Also, because of the way they're learning and having to depend on each other in the sense of working together, they learn that sense of community. Even though they are spread across the country, they are still a community.”  

-- Kim Nixon-Cave; New Jersey; program director and professor, DPT Hybrid Program 

At the immersion, faculty and students work together in small groups and get to know people from across the country with different backgrounds and a common love for helping others.

Second-year DPT Hybrid student Amanda Klein also reflects on the importance of this diversity in their program and how it will impact them as professionals: 

“We meet people from all over the world and from all over the country. In my class, I have a young woman who's from Croatia. I have a woman who's Romanian. She speaks Romanian and can flip flop between languages. You have people who are bi- and trilingual. You have people who are athletic trainers. We have a finance major. You get so many different walks of life and you get to really interact with them, and I think it makes us more compassionate, too, because we're all from different backgrounds and we all have these different things going on in our personal lives. Being able to connect with that is how we're going to connect with our patients in the future, because we're going to meet people from all over the place with different opinions and from different walks of life. This exposure from people across the nation and other countries is really helpful. It's kind of cool. It's not just kind of cool, it's very cool.”  

-- Amanda Klein; Spokane, WA; U.S. Air Force Veteran; DPT ‘23


Published March 22, 2023