Jewel Bennett Discovers the Power of Persistence, Prepares to Launch New Career as Physical Therapist Assistant
The road to success is rarely a straight line. It sometimes has potholes and even an occasional detour. Just ask Jewel Bennett. When she failed a class during the third semester of her Physical Therapist Assistant program on Carrington’s Boise campus in July 2020, she was faced with a major decision: to quit or to push forward. She chose the latter option and began the program all over again, repeating six classes and trying to figure out why she was struggling.
Jewel’s strategy worked. She graduated in April, 2022 with her AS degree—and an enormous sense of accomplishment. She’ll take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs in July and then launch her career as a physical therapist assistant.
“The past three years have been intense,” says Jewel, who worked as a hair stylist for 18 years before deciding to return to school and train for a new career. “My husband, our two daughter and I moved from Arizona to Idaho in August, 2019—six months before COVID hit. I was also involved in a serious car accident and have had two surgeries.”
Jewel also said goodbye to a career she’d long enjoyed and decided to enroll in a college program—at age 38.
“It’s been a lot, and there have been times when I felt like my head was spinning as a result of all the changes,” Jewel says. “But I don’t think I’d trade any of the experiences I’ve had. I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned and all the knowledge I’ve gained along the way. I feel like I’ve set the stage for an amazing next chapter in my life, and that’s very empowering and exciting.”
We talked with Jewel about the power of persistence, why she decided to walk away from her 18-year career as a hair stylist, and how she rose to the occasion when she was randomly assigned to an externship where she reported to the instructor whose class she’d failed.
What motivated you to pursue a new career as a physical therapist assistant after working as a hair stylist for nearly 20 years?
When you’re a hair stylist and you move to another state, you can’t take your clients with you. The idea of starting over in a new city and state where I only knew a few people was overwhelming, and I soon realized that my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I figured if I was going to start over, I might as well do something new, something that interested me.
How did you choose Carrington?
I set a goal for myself that I wanted to figure out the next step in my career before I turned 40. I narrowed it down to dietician, esthetician, nurse, or physical therapist assistant. Around the time I was researching what it took to pursue each occupation, I was in physical therapy for my neck. I told the physical therapist about my desire for a career change, and he encouraged me to check out PTA programs. I went online and found that Carrington offered the program, so my husband and I visited the Boise campus to learn more. We liked what we saw and heard, so I applied.
What appealed to you about becoming a physical therapist assistant?
The idea of helping heal the body by using motion as medicine has always interested me. I was waiting for an elevator after a physical therapy appointment with a woman who had cancer. She told me that the physical therapy she was doing was helping her manage pain and be more comfortable. In that moment, I realized physical therapy was more than people recovering from knee surgeries or car accidents. I was intrigued at the thought of working in a field that could have such a positive impact on people’s lives.
Your path to earning your AS degree proved to be a bit bumpy. What happened—and how did you overcome it?
I struggled so much at the beginning of my PTA program because I had never learned how to study. I’d also been out of school for more than half my life! I thought I was doing everything right, but I barely passed my first classes and I eventually failed one. I felt like such an underdog because I was watching other students appear to learn so much faster. I had to decide whether to walk away or start over. I knew I wasn’t willing to give up, so a week later, I started over and began repeating the classes I’d struggled in.
We also figured out the learning issues. I was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypractivity Disorder). I began working with a behavioral therapist and taking medication. I learned how to slow down and reduce my test anxiety. I also learned that we each have our own learning style. I’m a visual learner. I need to see it, hear it, and do it. Something as simple as writing note cards proved to be really helpful for me in learning more effectively.
You experienced a real full-circle moment during one of your externships, didn’t you?
I did! The instructor whose class I failed had retired from teaching and was working as a physical therapist. I was assigned to an externship at her practice. What are the odds of that happening? At first, I was terrified and intimidated. I felt a lot of pressure, but working with her turned out to be a real gift. She told me she was as surprised as I was that I’d failed her class and she was so happy I redid the class and went on to succeed.
When you look back on your experience as a student at Carrington, what are the greatest lessons you take with you?
I learned to accept support. My instructors at Carrington were so encouraging. They never gave up on me, and I’m grateful they believed in me when I wasn’t sure I believed in myself. I’ve also learned that you can never let failure stop or define you. I’ve learned I can do anything if I stick with it and focus my energy. We always have the option to write a new chapter in our stories if we refuse to give up.
What do you think your two daughters have learned from watching you set a goal and work hard to achieve it?
My daughters are 16 and 7, so they’re at very different stages in their lives. But what I hope they’ve both learned is that failure can be temporary and that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. I never believed or was taught that when I was their ages. I’m the first in my family to go to college. I didn’t think I could do more or be more because it was never encouraged. They’re growing up with a different experience, and that makes me very happy.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about making a career change and returning to school?
Change isn’t always easy, but if it’s something you want and you’re truly committed to making it happen, go for it. No one can do it for you. My life is so different now. I’ve gone from working in a salon to completing an externship where I assisted in an intensive care unit at a hospital. And once I pass my exam, I’ll be working with patients. It’s an amazing feeling to invest in myself and to feel like it’s paying off!