WINGATE — Julia Galanto has always been a helper who’s quick to volunteer. That has made her a perfect fit in Wingate’s PT school.
Wingate University’s Department of Physical Therapy has given the second-year student ample opportunities to fulfill her passion for giving back.
“Wingate has been phenomenal with presenting opportunities,” she says. “I feel like we get an email almost every week for some type of volunteer opportunity that they’re looking for help with.”
More often than not Galanto will answer the call, and she’s been rewarded for her selflessness with a scholarship from Exxat, which provides specialized healthcare-related software to Wingate and other PT schools around the country.
Galanto was one of four recipients of Exxat’s Care for Underserved Communities Award, joining students from Andrews University, Washington University of St. Louis, and The Ohio State University.
Over the past year and a half, Galanto has volunteered at Project 658, which provides pro bono healthcare to members of the refugee community in Charlotte; House of Pearls, which helps women who have undergone treatment for addiction to re-enter society; Kinetic Kids, which treats children with musculoskeletal and cognitive development impairments; and two weekly Wingate DPT-created pro bono clinics aimed at the underinsured: one for adults and one for children (in conjunction with Wingate’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy program).
“Since beginning at Wingate University, Julia has volunteered her time to help at these clinics at every chance she gets,” says Dr. Brett MacLennan, associate professor. “Despite just being in her second year, Julia always takes a leadership role when working with patients, and faculty consistently comment on their confidence in Julia’s ability.”
It was at Project 658 that Galanto experienced one of her most memorable volunteering moments. She was assigned a patient with a spinal-cord injury, the result of a nasty fall down a flight of stairs. Doctors doubted the man would ever be able to stand on his own again.
“Toward the end of our sessions with him, we were able to get him up with a standing walker, and he was able to take steps on his own,” Galanto says. “It was a very emotional and exciting moment. I remember thinking, This is why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Galanto, a native of West Hartford, Connecticut, found her way to Wingate after four years as an athletic trainer at her undergraduate alma mater, Roanoke (Virginia) College, where she played varsity lacrosse. She’d considered physical therapy as a career path out of high school but wasn’t 100 percent sure, so she majored instead in athletic training. But while working part-time at a PT clinic, she says, “I just kind of saw myself doing that.”
Unable to tour campuses because of Covid, Galanto relied on college websites and phone interviews to get a feel for different PT schools. Wingate, she says, was the clear choice.
“I interviewed with one of the faculty, and it just clicked,” Galanto says. “It was a very personal conversation. It felt like they cared for me as a person and not just a number. It just felt right.”
Now she’s balancing studying and volunteering, and managing to succeed at both. Dr. Karen Friel, director of Wingate’s DPT program, says Galanto is among the top students she’s ever taught.
“The combination of maturity, professionalism, selflessness, academic and clinical acumen and her genuine warm and pleasant demeanor make her a standout, not only in our program, but amongst all DPT students,” she says.
When Wingate’s DPT program resumes after a short break later this month, Galanto will have even more opportunities to refine her bedside manner. The pro bono clinic gets going shortly after the semester starts, and the emails asking for volunteers will soon begin hitting inboxes as well.
That’s good news for Galanto, who says she’s developing more empathy by working with the less fortunate.
“I think it’s helped me develop my people skills, my hands-on skills — just really develop overall as a person,” she says.
Learn more about Wingate’s DPT program at Wingate.edu.