Alberto Galvan, a DPT student on the Doctor of Physical Therapy hybrid pathway, grew up without a father.

Lacking a male figure to look up to, the soon-to-be graduate from the USC Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy instead modeled himself after superheroes.

“I knew they had to be strong, courageous, selfless people who were always helping,” Galvan recalled. “I played high school football and loved strength training. I trained all the time, but I kept getting hurt. Unlike Batman, I didn’t have an Alfred to mend my injuries, so I got into sports medicine and then the natural progression was to physical therapy.”

Much like the good guys you’ll find in comic books, Galvan sprung into action — Pow! — once the pandemic hit, and he saw a way to pitch in and help. First, he established the Driveway 5K, which helped raise money for the Keck Medicine of USC COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund.

“Just as other things started to transition to the virtual realm, I thought, ‘What if we could do a Zoom and everybody’s joining in and participating in the 5K?’ I wanted to bring people together in a way that was unconventional. We’re hybrid students; the online medium is how we do things, so, why not embrace tech in the same way this program uses it?”

After the resounding success of the 5K, which engaged both faculty and students, Galvan developed an online 60-minute exercise class called Hurt by Burt: Online Training, which took place three times a week via Zoom. Using a satellite CrossFit gym in his garage, Galvan took viewers through warm-ups, stretches and exercises.

“It was an opportunity to practice telehealth before we were actually in clinic and doing it,” Galvan said. “The hybrid program guided me in terms of modeling. I modeled what I learned from the program, such as offering breakout rooms and utilizing different methods to keep people interested. I also got to practice my exercise prescription and warm-up skills.”


Dark knight, silent leader

While Galvan never viewed himself as a leader, this experience made him realize there is more than one way to lead. “I’m not usually the first one to raise my hand. I’m quiet and I watch,” he explained. “But if there’s a need, and no one’s stepping up, I’m going to do it.”

As he’s set to graduate this spring, Galvan can’t help but look back on his journey, one filled with obstacles and challenges along the way. “I applied to the USC physical therapy program four or five times before I was finally accepted,” he said. “I didn’t give up. I knew I wanted to do it, and I knew I wanted to do it at USC. I knew it would happen at some point.

“When you don’t succeed, you have to reflect on how you could do it different,” he continued. “Being at clinicals and working with patients, a lot of that personal growth within those five years really made it easier for me to talk to people who are going through obstacles and injury.”

Galvan attributes his never-take-no-for-an-answer approach to the women in his family. “My grandmother was an immigrant from Mexico, and my mom was a single mother. I was always around resilient women. Not having a male role model at home was a blessing because the women in my family don’t give up. They definitely passed that along.”


PT summer camp

For Galvan, his favorite memory from the DPT program, without question, is the immersions, which he likens to “PT camp.” “You’ll always remember summer camp,” he said with a smile. “I will always remember immersions. I really got to know my cohort. We spent all day together. We ate together, cried together and shared the blood, sweat and tears. Sometimes we’d be there from daybreak to twilight, just cramming and studying and bonding. My heart gets mushy thinking about the fact that it’s all over.”

There is a long list of faculty members who Galvan cites as having a huge influence on him.

“I model my gestures and behaviors off of things I see successful people do — Dr. Beth Fisher, Dr. Christopher Powers, Dr. Michael Andersen, Dr. Liz Poppert and Dr. Daniel Kirages,” he said. “We weren’t physically on campus learning these skills until immersion, but using the videos, I tried to model and emulate what I thought would work really well in person — everything from hand placements to the way these professors would interact with their staged actors. Everybody taught me something. I really looked up to all of our professors.”

As for the future, Galvan plans to pursue a career in orthopaedics and is looking into applying to Kaiser Permanente’s Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Residency. “Dr. Kirages has been counseling me on that,” Galvan said. “He’s a mentor who’s guiding me toward that residency. I’m a lifelong learner. Wherever I end up, I’m always going to be learning and growing.”

— Michelle McCarthy