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Arnold School of Public Health


DPT graduate completes degree with support from peers and faculty to land position as pediatric physical therapist

January 22, 2018 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

The exercise science department’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program is known for its ‘boutique’ approach to education. It’s what drew Columbia, S.C., native Sarah Pate to the program in the first place, and it’s what helped her graduate on time despite an unexpected change in her plans.

Just a few days before DPT orientation in 2014, Pate and her husband, Charles, found out they were expecting a baby boy whose due date was in April—right around the final examinations that would wrap up her first year. She began her program knowing that her path would probably look different than most of her classmates. What she didn’t realize was what an important role her peers and her mentors would play in helping Pate stay on track with the cohort-based 3 1/3 year program.

“I walked into my meeting with our graduate director, Stay Fritz, to tell her about my news, and I fully expected her to say something like ‘great, come back next year,’ but that was not at all what she did,” remembers Pate. “Instead, she laid out all of my options and offered me the flexibility to say what I felt like I needed.”

For my family, for my classmates, for my research partners, each individual deserves to be honored and recognized because I could not, I would not, have been capable of doing this alone.

-Sarah Pate, Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate

Pate moved forward with the DPT program as scheduled, participating in labs while 7-10 months pregnant and trading her spring break for the week after her son, Charlie, was born so she could spend time with him. After his birth, members of Pate’s program rallied around her in support—classmates showed up the day after Pate came home from the hospital to help her prepare for an upcoming lab practical, faculty allowed her to Skype into lectures, and teaching assistants, specifically Max Jordon, worked with her outside of class to help her prepare for lab finals. 

“My completing this program is a huge accomplishment but not just a personal one,” says Pate. “For my family, for my classmates, for my research partners, each individual deserves to be honored and recognized because I could not, I would not, have been capable of doing this alone.”

Her hard-fought battle to graduate with her cohort this past December was further bolstered when Pate received an offer to join Kidnetics as a pediatric physical therapist. Having earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and health and exercise science from Furman University, Pate was not only familiar with the Greenville Health System Children's Hospital department, she had already interned there as an undergraduate.  

Physical therapists have the opportunity to work on both sides—prevention and rehabilitation—to serve our patients and help them actualize their goals.

-Sarah Pate, Doctor of Physical Therapy graduate

As the daughter of a surgeon whose office she worked in as a medical assistant during high school and college, Pate had already developed a passion for public health and preventive medicine after observing the high rate of preventable comorbid conditions among patients. The volume and weight of the patients’ paper files (prior to transitioning to electronic medical records) along with family dinner conversations about the growing cost of healthcare in the United States made an impression on Pate.

“Physical therapists have the opportunity to work on both sides—prevention and rehabilitation—to serve our patients and help them actualize their goals,” she says of choosing her career path. “But what really sealed the deal for me was being a student intern at Kidnetics. I loved watching these talented therapists disguise therapy as play to motivate, engage, and ultimately heal. They were advocates for each child and each family and really invested the time and energy into understanding the child from a holistic perspective.”

During her DPT program, Pate found mentors in research advisor and clinical professor Paul Beattie as well as assistant professor Jill Stewart, who provided professional guidance. Fritz also served as a critical mentor for Pate.

“Dr. Fritz is an incredible program director and mentor who has a gift in her ability to listen and advise and really empower those students who come to her,” she says. “We are so fortunate to have someone who has such vision for our profession and how our education shapes the foundation.”

In addition to the personal attention offered by the program, Pate also chose the Arnold School due to its focus on research. One area she studied was how physical therapy affects outcomes such as pain and return to function. Working with classmate and research partner, Abigail Pinkerton, Pate analyzed a data set from ATI Physical Therapy and presented their findings at the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Sections Meeting.

Another research interest for Pate is gait analysis and practical applications of motion capture for gait training. To learn more about the subject, she completed a one-year fellowship, South Carolina Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities, working alongside a school psychologist and epidemiologist to explore how improving gait may improve life satisfaction in children with cerebral palsy.

Long term, Pate plans to combine her research interests with her passion for working in pediatrics. “Eventually, I would like to lead a functional gait analysis lab and participate on a team with physicians and kinesiologists to help reduce gait disturbances and hopefully improve quality of life for children,” she says. “I would love to continue to be involved in the research community and work in translational research to better bridge the gap.”