Hallie BENNETT ’09, DPT, Traveling Physical Therapist

Whether she’s practicing in Pittsburgh or Hawaii, Dr. Hallie BENNET ’09 can be found motivating and inspiring people across the country as a traveling physical therapist. A graduate of Ithaca College's Physical Therapy Doctorate program, Hallie moves to a new city every three to six months to heal and help patients in a variety of healthcare settings such as nursing homes, hospitals, and home health. With plans to move back to Hilo, Hawaii, this December for another rotation, Hallie is currently finishing an assignment in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and studying for a specialized certification in neurological physical therapy. 

Years at Ellis:Grade 6 to Grade 12 
Occupation:Traveling Physical Therapist
Education:B.S. Clinical Health Studies, Ithaca College; D.P.T. Physical Therapy, Ithaca College 
Location:Based out of Pittsburgh, PA

How did you become involved in your line of work? 
I initially thought I wanted to become an athletic trainer after being repaired by Erica Tatko in the trainer's room at Ellis for so many seasons. She brought my attention to physical therapy and encouraged me when I chose to explore the profession during my senior project. It turns out the parts I love best about physical therapy are working with patients and in settings that trainers don't experience often. When it came time to choose a job and where to work, I was torn between working with patients in the hospital or geriatric populations in skilled nursing facilities. Traveling has allowed me to divide my time and experience new places. 

Did you follow the career path you had in mind after graduation or were there unexpected turns along the way?
For the first three years of undergrad, I genuinely thought I wanted to work with athletes. As I continued to study, I grasped the vast array of settings and populations where physical therapy is needed. After practical experiences with athletic populations, I didn't find them nearly as rewarding as helping people achieve simpler but equally gratifying goals such as walking without help or being able to return to their own home. After entering the workforce, I told myself I would travel for two years before settling into a permanent job. Here I am almost four years into traveling—watching my list of 'cities where I want to live' grow longer and longer. I bought a new car and my criteria even included a larger trunk that can fit all of my belongings! I suspect my next big change will be the adventure of living in one spot for more than a year. 

What lessons has your work life taught you?
Trust those who've been there. If I've seen 100 patients go through a surgery or recovery process, have faith I'm pushing you because I know you will be better for it. Likewise, if my patient has been struggling with a chronic pain or injury for years, they will know far better than I about how to get around and get through the day in their shoes. Secondly, not to be corny, but I have learned the beauty of a day as a fully abled independent individual.

For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Pay attention not just to the lessons but to the faculty and staff. They teach by example how to handle accolades and disappointment with grace. Stay in touch with your classmates, sisters, and mentors. Later in life, these are the people that will have known you the longest and can remind you of all the possibilities you contain. 

What do you think are the advantages to Ellis’ all-girls environment?
Ellis provided me with examples of smart and strong athletes, musicians, writers, designers, and originators. I got to see females play every role: teacher, student, mentor, supporter, actor, coach, friend, sister, comedian, etc. In those formative years, I subconsciously learned that a woman can play any role she desires. It took several years away from Ellis before I appreciated that some of my peers had never seen a female class president, female athletic director, or a female physics tutor. 

We often talk about girls developing their voice at Ellis, what does that mean to you? How do you use your voice?
I must admit, I've never been mistaken as a soft spoken individual, but Ellis helped me to express myself better. Culture Jam prompted me to be more precise in my speech and pressure others to do the same. Many of my friends find forums, classrooms, and meeting rooms intimidating settings in which to speak up—however, the confidence instilled from my years at Ellis reassures me when I’m contributing in these scenarios. 

How did Ellis stimulate your intellectual curiosity and creativity? 
My teachers at Ellis did not settle for adequate. They expected so much more than I thought I had to offer, yet each time I found just a little more to give. At Ellis, I learned the benefits of pushing past my self instilled barriers. This drive collided with the passions I saw my teachers pursuing in mini-courses. Seeing how they wove together their crafted skills with their inspirations helped me understand just how many options the future holds for each of us.

Can you recall a time when you have been brave and bold?
The bravest things I've done involving leaving the safety of home. I started travel physical therapy with very limited experience in my field. I had a large issue with my first contract involving a start date mix-up which was nerve wracking. I was living by myself, without roommates for the first time, in a city where I didn't know a soul. I didn't have an income yet and I was afraid my job was going to fall through. I toughed it out and that turned into the perfect first job with some of the best coworkers to guide me. Then a few years ago I traveled to Cambodia by myself for several days which was my first solo adventure outside of the US. I had to negotiate a tuk-tuk ride from a driver with limited English to a hostel I'd never seen before in a city without clear street signs or cell phone reception. I'm not sure if my mom would call that bold or foolish. In the end, I got to experience Angkor Wat, and crossed it off the number one spot on my bucket list! 

How do you spend your free time?
When I have time between assignments I return to Pittsburgh to visit with friends and family or I take short international trips to explore the world. I'm hoping to visit all 50 states and all 7 continents before 50 years old. So far I'm up to 25 out of 50 and 3 out of 7, still a long way off. When I'm on assignment I explore my temporary home, asking locals for the touristy spots and less obvious attractions. I also get a library card in each new town to feed my inner bookworm. 

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Empathetic. Outspoken. Nerdy.  
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