Jessica Quinn ’17, ’20DPT is living her dream, working in a profession she loves in a location she never imagined she would be. She’s the lead physical therapist at Arctic Chiropractic in Anchorage, AK, which is the result of not only of her years of hard work but also her unwavering faith in the PSU community.
Quinn was the first student accepted into the inaugural cohort of the University’s doctor of physical therapy program, and she took pride in being the only recent Plymouth State graduate among a group that included students from across the country. “It made me want to work harder and be successful,” she says. She felt certain that the program would succeed, largely because of her confidence in Professor Sean Collins, its founding director. Collins played a major role in Quinn’s academic journey, both in the DPT program and her undergraduate studies in exercise and sport physiology.
“He was my exercise science professor, and I came into his class not knowing that he was at Plymouth to start a doctoral PT program,” says Quinn. “That’s where I wanted to go in my career. I visited him in his office and picked his brain a lot. He was very enthusiastic and would take me around to all of the rooms in the Samuel Read Hall Building to show me where things would be.”
Collins believed that the PT field was changing and wanted to create something new at PSU to keep up. “He had this great plan and idea,” says Quinn. “I never had any doubt that it would get approved and accredited.”
The resilience of the fledgling program was put to the test by the pandemic, especially when students were scattered in their clinical rotations. “I was on my own in Colorado when COVID hit and was showing symptoms, and had to isolate in a hotel room by myself,” says Quinn. “My professors called multiple times to ask if I was OK. Dr. Collins told me that he didn’t want me to worry about school and reassured me that I would graduate.”
Part of what makes Quinn’s current position her “dream job” is that it addresses her passion for helping. She had discovered earlier in life how physical activity could be beneficial for her own mental health, which eventually led to several years as a certified physical trainer. Seeing her efforts leading to positive changes in others made her eager to learn more ways to help them. In 2015, Quinn’s husband encouraged her to follow her heart and go back to school, which began her Plymouth State experience.
Hallmarks of Plymouth State’s Integrated Clusters learning model include close collaborations between faculty, staff, students, and members of the community, and real-world projects that extend beyond the classroom. Quinn proudly points out how she and her peers grabbed the reins and shaped their new program with Panther PT, a pro bono clinic run by students offering free physical therapy services to the community. The clinic is under the supervision of a full-time professor and licensed physical therapist and came about after students researched similar offerings at other institutions and consulted professional standards. Types of conditions treated and services offered range from athletic and work-related injuries to neurological impairments and post-surgical rehabilitation, and even technique coaching and assessment for recreational runners.
Doctoral students also launched a new PSU PT Club, where students of all three doctoral cohorts support one another throughout the curriculum. It is also open to undergraduates who want to further their involvement in the field. Members have opportunities to hold leadership roles, attend state and national conferences, and present research studies alongside faculty members.
Completing her doctoral degree ended a years-long marathon of commuting to campus an hour-and-a-half each way from her home in North Conway, NH. Quinn stayed motivated with the help of many small kindnesses. “The little interactions with PSU staff really kept me going,” she says. “The cafeteria lady at the Union Grille would tell me that she’s so proud of me and say, you’re doing really well, are we going to see you next year? The small community in Plymouth—they really take care of you.”
Quinn had the honor of addressing the combined classes of 2020 and 2021 at this year’s Graduate Commencement Ceremony. Speaking remotely from Alaska, she celebrated the collaborative spirit that helped her and her now fellow alumni overcome so many obstacles.
“Solitary success is a façade,” said Quinn in her remarks. “The biggest lesson I learned at PSU and being a part of the inaugural class of the DPT program is that empowerment of others leads to the greater success of the whole. So, in other words, I am, because we are. When we harness each other’s strengths, we strengthen humanity.”