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Dr. Richard P. Nielsen Receives the 2023 Pillar of the Valley Award

Richard P. Nielsen, PT, DHSc, ECS,

Former RMU President and current RMU Board of Trustees member, Richard P. Nielsen, PT, DHSc, ECS, is one of two individuals receiving the 2023 Pillar of the Valley Award from the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce. The prestigious award honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the business, civic, social, educational, and cultural climate of Utah Valley.

A Lifetime of Service

From the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro and Utah Valley to the White House, Nielsen’s impact has spanned the globe. His selfless efforts have benefitted hundreds of employees, thousands of graduates, millions of patients, and countless lives. The proverbial moss has not had a chance to grow around Richard, as his lifetime achievement and philanthropic work moves at Mach 1 speed.  

“He is tireless in serving humanity and making the world a better place,” said RMU Board Chair and fellow RMU co-founder, Mike Skurja Jr., DPT, ECS (Emeritus).

Dr. Nielsen’s legendary leadership and vision for healthcare grew a 1998 Utah Valley graduate healthcare education startup into a US DOE accredited Rocky Mountain University (RMU) with dozens of doctoral, masters, certificate and continuing education offerings benefiting hundreds of employees, thousands of graduates, millions of patients and launching stellar careers. Dr. Nielsen  retired as President/CEO of RMU in 2022 after 27 years at the helm.

Dr. Nielsen’s amazing work building the university followed an equally stellar 25-year military career where he served as chief physical therapist for the U.S. Navy, consultant to the U.S. Supreme Court, Congress and Senate, the Pentagon and the White House. He has led multiple service missions to Africa over 35 years and his work there is not done yet as he is scheduled to lead two service expeditions in 2023 and hopes to lead such missions for years to come. 

Speaking of living life at Mach 1, Richard credits his mom with the go-getter entrepreneurial style burning brightly in his life. “She essentially wrote the playbook of success for me,” as this single mother empowered her youngest of four children with valuable and solid principles of service and success. These life lessons and skills are now found in abundance among Richard’s five children. They each have either started businesses or work in business arenas. Nielsen has summited Kilimanjaro eight times including with each of his five children. And don’t leave mom out as Richard’s wife, Jodi Nielsen is co-founder and VP of World of Difference Charitable Foundation. She leads service teams with her husband to Africa each year. Yes, she too has also summited Africa’s highest peak with the good doctor. 


As demands for healthcare professionals in Utah have grown rapidly, Nielsen’s entrepreneurial energy and vision went to work. His long view for Utah to develop skilled professionals to meet rising demand resulted in the creation of and driving the rise of Rocky Mountain University (RMU). In addition he co-founded The Institute of Clinical Electrophysiology and Utah’s new Noorda College of Osteopathic Medicine, all in Provo. In 2019, Utah Business Magazine named him Hero of the Year in healthcare education. 


He has been the recipient of various accolades including being named one of the “Fabulous 50” Movers and Shakers in Utah Valley Magazine and 2023 Person of the Year. Nielsen and his wife, Jodi, received the American Red Cross of Utah Humanitarian of the year award.  In 2015, he was named Leader of the Year by the American Physical Therapy Association. Richard is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a personal affiliation that has motivated him throughout his lifetime of service. “The Lord has been in front of all I have ever done or ever hope to do,” Nielsen said.


With his wife, Jodi, and their daughter, Kindee,  Dr. Nielsen co-founded Reach the Children and World of Difference charitable organizations, both focused on aiding underserved populations in Africa.


Nielsen led the creation of the pro bono Community Rehabilitation Clinic in Provo, Utah which has provided more than $5.6 million in free healthcare services and 19,000+ volunteer hours since 2014. He also headed the creation of RMU’s Center for Communication Disorders which provides exceptional speech-language pathology services to members of the community, particularly the underserved and uninsured. Watch for the doctor’s fingerprints on other such work in Utah.


Dr. Nielsen served as a cheerful champion for students and graduates of the two institutions he founded. Some 3,400 medical professionals have graduated from RMU under his leadership. These graduates are treating an estimated 40,000 patients per day in various locations throughout the world. Nielsen has championed learning himself having earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in pre-physical therapy from BYU and another in physical therapy from the University of Utah, a master’s degree in neural-kinesiology from the University of Washington, and a doctorate of health science with an emphasis in clinical electrophysiology from the University of St. Augustine.


Dr. Nielsen continually voices his vision for systemic change as people everywhere eliminate racism and discrimination both domestically and abroad. He and Jodi continue to model this change with their service to the people of Africa.

During his years of service, Nielsen has been known to say, “You don’t have to go out of your way to serve somebody – you just simply do it on your way.”

Nielsen was honoured at the Pillar of the Valley gala on April 12, 2023. For more information on the gala, visit the event website.

Written and provided by the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce