When Eli Greear was making the transition to graduate school, he had a feeling that his undergraduate effort just wasn’t going to cut it.
“In undergrad, I was a very average student,” he says. “I just kind of did what was expected of me, just went to class and went home and studied, made good grades but just kind of went with the flow.”
Greear vowed to step it up when he was admitted to Wingate’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program, in early 2019. And he followed through, volunteering for any service project that presented itself, whether it was working at Wingate DPT’s pro bono clinic or raising money for a variety of causes. If a sign-up sheet went around, he jotted his name down.
His hard work paid off in September when Greear was named Outstanding Student of 2021 by the North Carolina chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). There are 10 accredited physical therapy schools in North Carolina, so Greear was chosen out of hundreds of potential candidates. He is the first Wingate student ever to take home the award.
On Saturday, Greear and 37 other Wingate DPT students will receive their diplomas after three long years of learning all there is to know about physical therapy. Graduate Commencement will be held at 10 a.m. in Cuddy Arena, followed by undergraduate Commencement at 2 p.m.
This is the fourth fall commencement at Wingate, and the first time that the event has been split into two ceremonies. In the morning ceremony, 159 students will earn diplomas, while 123 undergraduates will receive their degrees in the afternoon.
Few of those walking will have devoted more of their time to serving others than Greear has. He leaves Wingate with a solid grade-point average, but the APTA award is about much more than GPA.
“It’s actually less about classwork,” says Dr. Karen Friel, director of Wingate’s DPT program. “It’s about the other aspects of being outstanding.”
According to Friel, Greear has distinguished himself during his clinical rotations, working hard to build trust with his patients and tapping into his classroom knowledge in a hands-on setting. He has even secured a post-graduation job with Atrium’s Carolinas Rehabilitation, the company with which he did the last of his four year-three rotations.
- Greear’s service-related resume is lengthy. Among his efforts during his three years at Wingate were the following:
- APTA NC Student Conclave Project Committee member.
- Wingate’s chair of the Marquette Challenge, a nationwide fundraising competition.
- Leader of Wingate’s participation in the USC Gamecock Challenge, which provided funds for a local family hit with a medical crisis this past year.
- Wingate DPT Student Ambassador, participating in all information sessions, open houses, trustee meetings and focus groups.
“He’s always present, he’s always there, he’s always willing to put himself in situations that will help others, that will promote our programs,” Friel says. “He spearheads so many of our fundraisers. He’s amazing.”
Finding his calling
Greear, who got his undergraduate degree at UNC Charlotte, originally wanted to be an engineer. When he realized that the field wasn’t for him, a career-aptitude test pointed him in the direction of physical therapy, so he got a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and set his sights on PT school.
From day one at Wingate he’s been volunteering outside the classroom, starting with Wingate’s neurowellness clinic, a pro bono offering that preceded the current Wingate Rehabilitation and Performance clinic. There, he worked with Timothy Kelley, a truck driver from Monroe who suffers from peripheral neuropathy, which means he has almost no feeling in his feet.
“I was able to work with him my very first semester,” Greear says. “Just seeing the difference that we made in his life, and getting him to be able to return to playing tennis, was an awesome and fulfilling experience for me.”
Greear was also impressed with how much PT helped his grandfather live a better life after being diagnosed with dementia.
Greear picked Wingate in part because of the Human Anatomy Lab, commonly referred to as a “cadaver lab.” At many schools, PT students can use the lab, but only after medical students are finished with it. By the time PT students get their turn, the cadavers are often in a less helpful state. At Wingate, PT students get first dibs.
“When you’re learning these heavy anatomical terms and you need to know where literally every muscle is in the body, having access to the cadavers firsthand really makes a huge difference,” he says.
Wingate’s motto – Faith, Knowledge, Service – also spoke to him, and Greear really leaned into the service aspect. He believes that his dedication to giving back will pay off in the long run, for himself and his patients.
“Yeah, I learned a lot in the classroom, and being able to participate in those opportunities has helped my knowledge,” he says, “but it’s also made me more well-rounded, both professionally and as a person.”
“It makes for a more complete practitioner, when you’re doing those ancillary things that are part of being a professional,” Friel says.
It’s also right up Greear’s alley. A star soccer player in high school and a big outdoorsman, Greear doesn’t like to sit still, and the physical demands of providing PT care suit him well.
“I didn’t want to be at a job where I was at a desk 9-to-5 every day,” he says. “That’s just not me. I needed to be surrounded by people who motivated me and pushed me to be better not only as a PT but better as a person. Being able to treat these patients is fulfilling to me. It makes me excited to be entering the profession.”
Learn more about Wingate’s DPT program.
Dec. 16, 2021