Prof. Season Bonino loves building relationships in physical therapy

Season Bonino, a clinical assistant professor, loves teaching physical therapy students to understand and apply what they learn — so they continue to evolve just as the field does. We asked how she got her start, what she loves about the field and about teaching, what stands out about Nazareth, and what advice she has for students.

Season Bonino

A patient and practitioner

Less than a month before I headed to college to study physical therapy, I was in a horseback riding accident and suffered a severe injury to my knee — resulting in months on crutches and multiple surgeries. (Growing up, I worked on a quarter horse farm and I spent most of my free time riding with friends and training horses for showing.)

I started my first year on crunches, on a hilly Ithaca campus, as both a PT student and a PT patient. Every day I attended classes that would get me ready to be a PT, and multiple days a week, I was in a clinic receiving the therapy I was learning about. I truly believe that my unique perspective of being a student and therapist helped shape me into the active listener and empathetic provider that I am today.

While I acquired my doctorate in physical therapy in August 2020, I brought over 20 years of clinical experience with me to Nazareth when I started as an adjunct in 2014 and became full time in 2017.

Building relationships

Patients: One of the things I love most is building a relationship with patients — I believe it is the most important piece in patient care. Yes, I am helping them to work through a potentially life changing event, but to build that relationship and gain that trust is just as important as the therapy itself. I always try to learn something about them beyond what is needed for their therapy. I strongly believe that if we are not invested in the lives of those we interact with, then we can’t build the trust we need to successfully help them reach their goals and improve.

Students: This holds true for my students as well. If I don’t engage with them outside the classroom and get to know them, how can I expect them to trust me and learn from me. My first goal is to learn everyone’s name in our new cohorts and something about them. I love to hear about their accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. I think it’s important to show them I don’t only care about them as a student but also as a person.

I have a very open door policy for my students. Students are encouraged to come in, chat with me, grab a piece of chocolate, and ask for help with whatever they need. My office is a welcoming place where you can find help or just someone to listen — whatever you might be needing that day. It’s all a part of being there for my students not only for their academics,  but also when they might be dealing with something outside the classroom and just need a friendly face. I hope this focus on empathy carries forward with my students and encourages them to act the same way when interacting with their patients in the future.

Clinical work and preparing for the future

I’m a clinician at heart and one of the main things I love about Nazareth’s PT program is that some of the clinical work is done at Nazareth, in our pro bono clinics. This allows us to prepare the students for clinical work as part of the curriculum and also allows students to interact with patients and members of the community without ever having to leave campus. Our students also complete a significant amount of full time clinic work off campus, but having great facilities right on campus allows our students to gain skills and confidence before heading out into the community — and that is unique to Nazareth’s program.

In healthcare, while students graduate at an entry level it is important that they have a strong knowledge base that allows for safe and effective treatment. Given this, I like to focus on “How do we teach our students not just to memorize, but understand and apply.” They need to be life-long learners. In anything you study you need to have a passion and love of learning for your subject, something that we stress in healthcare as new information and treatment approaches are being studied and disseminated every year.

Student researchers

I also enjoy involving students in my own research interests. My passion these days is rehabilitation approaches for those with multiple sclerosis. There are new studies and information coming out in rehabilitation all the time, however this is a diagnosis that is significantly underrepresented in the literature. We usually give our students information and a general direction to pursue, and then they are given the opportunity to develop the question that we are looking to answer and the methods in which we will get that answer. It’s a great collaborative effort that often results in a poster presentation at a national conference.

Be open to new opportunities

Never stop learning. No matter what you study, you should always be learning and growing, even if you’re no longer a student.

Also, be flexible. When I first got my degree I went to work in a hospital. After three months, I was offered the opportunity to work in pediatrics and on a burn trauma ICU as the only PT. Never in a million years would I have chosen those environments right out of college! They weren’t even on my radar. But I dove in, learned, and to this day that is probably one of my favorite experiences of my career.

It’s always good to have a direction you think you’re heading, but be willing to be open to new opportunities. You might discover a passion for something you never would have considered.

With a name like Season 

People always ask me where I got my name, and that is a fair question. When my mom was expecting me, she watched a movie and saw the main actor's first name was Season. She loved the name. A week or two later, I was born and was given the name.

When I first meet my patients, they often say “What?” or even “That’s odd,” However, several years ago I introduced myself to a patient that I was working with and instead of commenting  her eyes got as big as saucers. She said, “I’ve never met anyone else named Season. My cousin’s name is Season. She used to be an actress.” Sure enough, this woman's cousin was the actress I was named after! She got her on the phone while I was there and told her about how her new PT was named after her. It was wild!

Student perspective

“Professor Bonino is the definition of a great teacher. She goes above and beyond on a daily basis to enhance the learning experience of each student and provide them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to excel as a future physical therapist. In my second year, I had her as a clinical instructor in our on-campus neuro clinic. She always encouraged me to think outside the box and to never settle; continue to pursue more to best serve your patient. She was an instrumental mentor and also one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met. I have fond memories of sitting in her office chatting about research, school, life, or what our plans were for the weekend. She always provided calmness in the eye of the storm. Professor Bonino ... (was) instrumental in my life, and I value having gotten to know her as both a teacher and a person.”

—Jenna A. Zajac, who went on for a Ph.D. in rehabilitation science at Boston University

“Some of my favorite memories about being a student of Professor Bonino’s are going into her office feeling stressed or seeking help and leaving laughing, feeling completely relaxed (often with some chocolate in hand). She is not only very knowledgeable, but personable and patient as well. It is very clear that she sincerely cares about her students and wants them to succeed. Even now, after I have graduated, she reaches out to me to catch up and check in on how things are going in my life. She is an excellent role model of everything that a PT clinician and professor should be.”

—Jordyn Mundy, who became a full-time traveling physical therapist