Full Interview with Paul Bennett

Eller: What made you want to be a physical therapist?

Bennett:Well, as an athlete… I was an athlete in high school, college, throughout my whole childhood years, and I experienced injuries. I had physical therapy myself, so I just kind of really got into the anatomy classes, and then later on during my undergraduate years I did some job shadowing of doctors, because I originally wanted to be a MD. So I job shadowed them, and I didn’t feel as if they had as much of a rapport with the patients. It was more of a ‘I’m gonna talk to you for five minutes and then I’ve got to get on to the next person.’ I wanted more time to interact with the patient, get to know them, because I’m a talker. I want them to get to know me as much as I get to know them. I think there’s just more of a people side to physical therapy.

Eller: So when you made that switch? What made you decide to apply to the program here at Bradley? Were you here for undergrad?

Bennett:With Bradley it’s local. My wife has a job in the area, I knew people that went to Bradley and said it was a good experience, and to be honest, I put all my eggs in one basket. It was Bradley. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I knew the reputation from talking to people who had been in it before, and I also knew someone who graduated with their Master’s in Physical Therapy here. So, I got a lot of input from him and that sort of lured me in this direction. But location was a big deal too.

Eller: You put all your eggs in one basket, and you got here… what did you think when you started the program?

Bennett:I thought it was hard. That first summer, that’s all you do. It’s two five week cram sessions, and you study from seven in the morning until 11 at night. But, and maybe this came a little bit later, my other first impression was that these people here…They’re here for you. Professors. The student atmosphere. I think I felt a change from summer to fall. There was no longer competition. It was, ‘I help you get through, you help me get through.’ It wasn’t, ‘I’m better than you,’ or ‘I got better grades’ which you sometimes see in other places. The other thing too is we knew early on we had the professors’ full support.

Eller: That’s pretty amazing.

Bennett:Yeah, that’s the thing. Everybody’s door is always open. If you’re going to fail, it’s your fault for not going and getting the help, because it’s there. They reach out. They know when something is not right. They will approach you and say, ‘hey, you know, what’s going on?’ and that kind of thing. And they’ll dig it out of you so that you can succeed. And we are of the classes in which all 24 have stayed with the program. We haven’t lost anyone, and I don’t think we’re going to.

Eller: Is there anything else that maybe kind of surprised you about this program?

Bennett:I would have to say, it’s that you are more that prepared to go out on clinical rotation. You know a heck of a lot, and you know, there are a lot of times when I feel dumb, but I also feel a lot smarter sometimes too when I’m in the clinic because of the level of education I’ve gotten. I think they do a real good job integrating the education with the clinical experience. They prepare you so well that it almost makes clinical easier than being in the classroom.

Eller: So tell me a little about the clinicals.

Bennett:The first clinical was basically an observational one. They have the clinical set in curriculum apart from each other based on coursework. So the first clinical I was in was January 2009. It was a three week ‘get your feet wet’ type thing where I got to check out the atmosphere and do a few tests and measures for range of motion and things like that. But there really wasn’t a whole lot of critical thinking in that first one. It was more, ‘Can I do this test right?’ Then as clinical went on I got to be more independent, the clinicians started asking me questions, and I started to think more. I feel like, from that, my skills are good.

Eller: Being a people person, what’s it been like working in these different atmospheres with different types of patients?

Bennett:Now, as far as athletes go, I have no problem at all, I love dealing with them. Sometimes I’ve even had them accuse me of yelling at them because I’m so motivated. And that’s the way I was coached, and it was a good thing. I can get really into it. I think that’s my area. As far as the middle aged people go, I feel like they’ve very easy to interact with – they’re the majority of the patient population that I’ve been seeing. And then the elderly are just… they’re so much fun because they joke all the time. They’re like meeting a person on the street. Developing rapport is easy. And talking through things with all of those populations is such a big part of the treatment. You have to get them to trust you. If you can’t build that trust, then odds are that they aren’t going to succeed in what they need to do.

Eller: So has there ever been a circumstance where you’ve found gaining that trust to be difficult?

Bennett:If they’ve had physical therapy before and it wasn’t particularly successful, then that can be hard to work through. But that’s why I think the character or personality of a person, like me or you, that’s what you bring to the table. It’s how you can connect with people, and just getting them to give you that chance.

Eller: What would you say your biggest challenge is then?

Bennett:[laughs] Time! Time with patients. That’s my biggest challenge. I always want more time then I get. So many times there are so many things I want to do that I think would help them because I feel it’s necessary. Sometimes I break that rule and I take the time anyway. If a patient needs extra time, then I try to give it to them. I know that from the business aspect that’s maybe not the best move. But, I have an obligation and I chose this profession to help heal people and make them better, because that’s what makes ME feel good – versus being overly worried about the time I’m given.

Eller: How about in the classroom?

Bennett:Well, and my classmates will tell you the same, time is the biggest challenge, especially with exams and things like that. The other challenge for me is that I am a detail person. My challenge in the classroom is applying those details in the broader spectrum, and thinking outside the box.

Eller: What has been the most fun for you in this program?

Bennett:[laughs] I think if you were outside Bradley, you would say that the clinicals are the most fun because you get to go home and enjoy your nights and not study, but at Bradley that’s not true – and that’s good, because our program is teaching our students to go home and research so you can be prepared for the next day. As far as anything else, I know that we’re all in this together, and we do things like hold concerts for fundraisers, and go to things like the combined sections meeting in New Orleans. I mean, the class atmosphere is great. We get together and have a good time with those different types of activities.

Eller: Sounds like you’re pretty closely knit…

Bennett:We all work well together and get along well. We make time for each other and support one another. We have our Christmas parties and Halloween parties and things like that.

Eller: Let’s backtrack a second, you said New Orleans… what’s that about?

Bennett:New Orleans… each year there is a combined sections meeting and that’s where people from any state can come to meet. It’s physical therapists, physical therapist assistants, students, and anybody pretty much in the health care field, and they all come together, you get to meet people and learn new treatments based on more recent research, and you attend these classes about that research. Now as a student you go just to learn. As a professional, you get continuing education credits, which most states require if you want to continue to practice. It also gets your name out in the workforce. Of course there’s fun on the side, but it’s mostly getting together and getting that information.

Eller: Okay, so let’s talk more specifically about you – what might someone be surprised to learn about you?

Bennett:I like to do a lot of things outside. I love sports, and I watch every Cardinal game that I can – I went to 14 ball games this year. I also like to deer hunt. I wouldn’t think that’s typical of a physical therapist. I’m obsessed with trucks. I like my vehicle to look nice.

Eller: So, if you weren’t going to be a physical therapist, what do you think your life would be like?

Bennett: Maybe coaching. I actually volunteered as an assistant coach varsity at Brookfield high school the last two years. So I could see myself more doing that. A long, long time ago, I wanted to be a lawyer, but they’re the ones who give the physical therapists all the paperwork that sometimes makes the job harder.

Eller: Is there anything you want to tell the world that I haven’t asked you?

Bennett:About anything?

Eller: Yeah, about anything.

Bennett:I probably already said this, and maybe it sounds like I’m sucking up, but it’s the honest truth – credit needs to be given where credit is due, and if it wasn’t for the people in that department, none of us would be where we are today. So I think it’s really important that we recognize that. I mean, sometimes we do, but I don’t know if it’s often enough – because they work just as hard as we do, and they deserve credit for that. Most of the time it’s the student who gets the credit. You know they get the scholarship or pass the exams or whatever, but how did you get there? It’s because someone else took time to invest in you and that needs to be acknowledged. The other thing is that I need to acknowledge that my mother and father and my wife have stood beside me from the beginning to the end. So I give a lot of credit to them for the values they instilled in me, and the way they’ve stuck it out with me.

Eller: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Bennett: I don’t know really, but I want to leave all my lines open, but I really see myself in kind of a mixture. An outpatient clinic where I get to see athletes, middle aged people and older people. I also want to be a specialist in what they call board certified orthopedics. I plan to apply for residency through OSF and that’s where I see myself. And hopefully I’m a dad too.