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Helping People Heal is a Natural Way of Life for RMU Doctor of Physical Therapy Student

Amber Helton’s Moose Cree First Nation tribe has relied on holistic medicine for centuries, so helping people heal in natural ways is in her DNA. It’s fitting then — and an honor to her heritage — that the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMU) student chose a healthcare profession in physical therapy.

“One thing that influenced me to become a physical therapist is the holistic nature of the work that we provide,” Helton said. “Traditionally, Indigenous People have used natural methods of healing. So the fact that I can help people heal their own bodies was really a huge drawing point to the profession.”

Helton earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and exercise science at the University of Iowa in 2019 after receiving an education sponsorship from the Moose Cree Education Authority. She is more than two years into the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at RMU and will graduate in April 2024. Helton is already experiencing the satisfaction that accompanies helping patients regain functional mobility needed to participate in activities as simple as walking, gardening, and playing with grandkids.

“My goal with physical therapy is to help all my patients get back to performing the activities and tasks that they liked to do before their injury or sickness,” Helton said from the Utah Valley Hospital, where she gains experience through hands-on clinical work.


“One thing that I find super rewarding with physical therapy is working with patients who are having trouble walking short distances and helping them to safely leave the hospital and walk or climb the stairs again.”

Interestingly, PT wasn’t her first choice when she began college, but Helton fell in love with the profession while shadowing physical therapists as an undergrad student. Now it feels like a natural fit.

After graduation, Helton hopes to work in an inpatient rehabilitation center.

“As a physical therapist,” she said, “I hope to just help all my patients with their basic needs and help them to alleviate their pain and improve their function.”

Originally from Bloomington, Illinois, she’d like to stay in the Salt Lake City/Provo metro area. She’s fallen in love with the Wasatch Front mountains, where she frequently participates in her favorite winter activity.

“I snowboard. That’s one of the main draws here, too,” she said. “It’s much better than in the Midwest. There’s actually snow, which is nice.”

Helton has a blast when students from her DPT cohort join her on the slopes. As an added bonus, the physical therapist trainees can offer assistance when anyone experiences soreness or tweaks a knee while skiing or snowboarding.


Although it will temporarily take her away from Utah’s famous powder, Helton looks forward to her assignment in early 2024. Beginning in January, she’ll work in outpatient physical therapy at the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, New Mexico.

“I’m really excited to get to work on the reservation with the Indian Health Services to provide people with care,” she said. “During my time there, I hope that I inspire the youth on the reserve.”

It’s gratifying for Helton to help people who are not in a financial situation to afford to help themselves.

“Most Native tribes are underserved in terms of healthcare, whether it be due to the location of their reservation or funds. That inspires me as a native healthcare professional to provide care to not only just underserved native populations but underserved populations everywhere,” she said. “It’s really cool that RMU offers pro-bono services because we can provide underserved populations with free physical therapy.”

RMU’s Health Clinics are among many reasons why she’s thrilled to have made the decision to pursue her doctorate degree at RMU.

“Coming to RMU has been just an incredible experience and opportunity so far. I feel like RMU has really set me up to succeed in the physical therapy field after graduation,” she said. “Even now, while I’m in clinical rotations, I feel prepared and like I have a good grasp on what I’m doing, just because all the professors were so great in teaching us — and all of my classmates were so helpful as well.”


The same could be said of Helton, of course. She used to volunteer in an emergency room, did a pulmonary rehabilitation internship at an Iowa hospital, and was a rehabilitation aide in a Chicago suburb. Helping people is her natural way of life.

“The legacy I’d like to leave behind,” she added, “is that I truly and genuinely cared for all my patients and had their best interest at heart.”