Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Bennett knew from the age of nine that she wanted to be a doctor and set out with a clear plan to reach that goal. Following graduation from academically intense Girls High in Philadelphia, Dr. Bennett later joined the Air Force, becoming an airborne radio mechanic in the 58th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the only woman in a 200-person unit. Her primary motivation was to qualify for college tuition available through the G.I. Bill and to save additional dollars for college.
With financial support for college secure, Dr. Bennett majored in zoology and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, and received a B.S. in Education. Making the Dean’s List paved the way for a scholarship to medical school and, in the fall of 1960 at the age of 26, she entered the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine to pursue her lifelong dream, one of only six women in her class. She received her MD in 1964, becoming the first African American woman to graduate from Penn’s medical school.
Dr. Bennett remembers her medical school years as a “very good, positive experience” during which she “worked very hard.” She characterizes the environment as friendly, marked by substantial camaraderie, and free of overt discrimination. Coming from a diverse environment at Girls High, she was comfortable in her new surroundings, and her professors were fair. “If you were admitted to the medical school,” she says, “you were expected to graduate and the institution provided the support to make that happen.” Dr. Bennett fondly recalls many mentors, high among them Dr. Mickey Stunkard in the Department of Psychiatry and Dr. John Bevilacqua in the Department of Neurology. Following medical school, Dr. Bennett became a pediatrician for ten years. Her interaction with anxious and distressed parents, who were not receiving adequate attention, revealed an unmet need and stirred an interest in psychiatry. As she puts it, “I got tired of treating parents indirectly – no one was tending to the adults.” Upon completing a three-year residency at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, she opened her private psychiatric practice in July 1977 and, in November, joined the staff of Pennsylvania Hospital as an Assistant Psychiatrist and the Department of Psychiatry at HUP as a Clinical Associate.
As a general psychiatrist, Dr. Bennett has concentrated on patients with depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia. “Seasoned psychiatrists can make an especially significant difference to patients with schizophrenia,” Dr. Bennett emphasizes, “particularly if they have the opportunity to treat the patients over an extended period of time.” Her private practice allows for this longitudinal perspective, one that is also encouraged in her work at the Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Center at Pennsylvania Hospital.
Dr. Bennett focuses on the long-time quality of life of her patients. Her ultimate clinical goals are “to lessen patients’ symptoms, take care of their emotional homework, and help them develop more adaptive skills so they can begin to use their potential.” Dr. Bennett, a frequent guest on local television and radio programs, maintains a large, culturally and socioeconomically diverse private practice, and sees patients at Pennsylvania Hospital on an outpatient basis. As a Clinical Associate, she consults with other psychiatrists at Pennsylvania Hospital about specific cases, attends continuing medical education conferences there, and “really enjoys participating” in the Penn medical school’s doctoring program, which helps students learn about disease from the patient’s point-of-view. For most of the last fifty years, Dr. Bennett has had an active relationship with Penn, and has been a Clinical Associate of the Department for almost 25 years. Thinking back to her medical education at Penn in the early 1960s, Dr. Bennett describes
the institution as “unique” – without any stretch, the same can be said of her. SOURCE : U of Penn