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Students and instructors at the David Lawrence Convention Center participating in physical therapy workshops and instructional sessions.

When the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS) launched a hybrid format of its top-ranked Doctor of Physical Therapy program, an innovative and inventive approach to content delivery was fundamental. In theory, this pioneering adaptation of the curriculum would offer students asynchronous didactic classes and synchronous online activities. The students would engage with their professors and peers from home–wherever home is for them–and multiple in-person immersions in Pittsburgh. While in the city and on-campus, the students would have hands-on opportunities to apply the skills they learned in the virtual classroom. On paper, it seemed like a novel way to make the program more accessible and inclusive–but would it actually work?  

As the inaugural class of the hybrid DPT format nears the halfway point of year one, the answer to that question is clear: A resounding yes! 

Though the online curriculum was specially designed to fit a different student lifestyle, the rigor and intensity still match the residential format of the program, demanding students to push themselves in their learning and practice.  

Dave Wert, vice chair of the Doctor of Physical Therapy Education, notes, “One of the key benefits of our hybrid option is that this is not a transition from what used to be a ‘traditional lecture program’ to a ‘COVID-pandemic remote learning environment.’ Rather, our hybrid program was specifically designed to be an online program for online learners who want to become practicing clinicians.”  

The students in the program are up for the challenge. 

“We learn all the skills necessary for physical therapy in different parts of the country and then we all come to the immersion and work together to piece it all together,” says Tyler Hettich. “Everything makes much more sense now.”  

For Georgiana Voiebuna, the immersions are all about collaboration: “It means coming together with everyone–growing and adapting new skills from each other, and our professors helping us come together and complement what we learned online.” 

Tyler Pubins agrees that these unique in-person opportunities are a nexus of learning and practice. “Our community has a lot of Zoom communication, so the immersions allow us to bring the relationships we made online into fruition here with the rest of the faculty,” he says. 

But hands-on learning is just one of the benefits the immersions offer the hybrid DPT students. After months of working together on the screen, students are excited to spend time together in-person. 

“We get to take our Zoom community and bring it to life in-person and really see our friends,” said Daniella Torres. “The professors do a good job of facilitating that. People want to make friends and have study groups, and I think that has been a strength of this program.” 

Andranik Zetlyan confirms, “It’s a great way to bond with our classmates–it’s so different being on Zoom and then coming here and being in-person. I’m just glad to see them all.”   

Each week starts with classes and skills workshops and ends with a period of evaluation before the students and instructors depart for home to continue with online learning. No matter where students are tuning in from, one thing is undeniable–This hybrid DPT Panther Nation is proud to hail to Pitt!