Clinically Speaking with Lorri Bernhardt

A knee injury while playing volleyball first drew young Lorri Bernhardt, PT, MPT, ATP to a career in physical therapy. “My injury required surgery and subsequent physical therapy,” Bernhardt said. “I had a couple of false starts with other careers, but ultimately returned to school as a non-traditional, older student of Physical Therapy at Chapman University in Orange, California.” After an internship at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, California, Bernhardt worked 17 years in the Neuro outpatient clinic at that facility. “During the last seven years at Rancho, I transitioned exclusively to Seating and Mobility and discovered a true passion for this area of practice,” Lorri said.

In 2017, the Bernhardt family – Lorri, along with her husband of 27 years, George and their daughters, Irene, 15, and Audrey, 13 – moved from Southern California to Pleasant View, Tennessee, near Nashville. “George and I had always dreamed of having some land with animals, but I never thought it would happen,” Bernhardt said. “We finally decided to ‘just do it,’ and we loaded up the truck and moved to Tennessee. You can insert Beverly Hillbilly’s music here!”

The family now lives on 6 ½ acres with three horses, 23 chickens, three ducks, ten Bobwhite Quail, and a French Bulldog named Jewel. “I love being on our mini-farm with my family,” Bernhardt said. “Irene and Audrey are avid riders and compete with their horses in “Hunter/Jumper” shows. I ride, too, but just for pleasure.”

The Bernhardts have homeschooled their daughters for the past four years, providing a situation that allows for an opportunity to enjoy many other activities. “The girls love the outdoor life,” Bernhardt said. “They care for our animals, enjoy riding, fishing, camping, 4-H activities, and investigating the nearby forest. Irene has won awards for her horse-riding abilities, and Audrey is a great cook and baker. We are active with and enjoy our church family.” George, now retired from being “on the road” as a professional guitarist with musicians such as Rick Springfield, plays with the worship team at church.

“George and I love fly-fishing, camping, and the outdoors,” Bernhardt said. “Before we had children, we would backpack into the backcountry of California and not see other people for days. Now we enjoy more of a “Glamping” style of camping with our daughters. We’re fortunate that we can all share this outdoor lifestyle and cherish this time together as we know it goes by fast.”

When the Bernhardts moved to Tennessee, Bernhardt continued her work as a Physical Therapist at the Phi Beta Phi Rehab Institute Seating and Mobility Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “I work in a Seating and Mobility Clinic that continues to ignite my passion for learning, to advocate, and teach others about Seating and Mobility and how it can, and does, change lives for the better,” Bernhardt said. “I work with such a great team. It’s a blessing to work with a great group of people who strive to provide the best care possible.” Bernhardt is often asked whether she gets sad working with people with disabilities all the time. “My answer is ‘absolutely not.’ Actually, I feel the exact opposite!” Bernhardt said. “I have the distinct pleasure of being a part of the team that provides each individual with those things he or she would need to become as independent as possible and participate in the life they want to lead.”

“I have had the opportunity to see a young man with a traumatic brain injury independently drive a power wheelchair for the first time and smile while his family takes video and cries tears of joy,” Bernhardt continued. “I have also had the opportunity to see a woman of advanced age after a severe stroke, who, while seated in a basic wheelchair, stared silently in her lap in a basic wheelchair, light up with a smile when seated in supportive, customized seating. Experiences such as these are what I get to do when I go to work.”

During her twenty-year career as a Physical Therapist, Bernhardt’s experience has helped her cope with many changes and challenges; however, her dedication and optimism keep her focused on the positive difference she can make in the lives of others. “Anyone that has worked in this area of care knows the continuing difficulties related to the access to the products we provide,” Bernhardt said. “Coding, documentation requirements, appeals, reimbursement, timelines – we live this every day. Because we cannot easily make changes to many of these aspects of our work, I believe we need to engage those we serve in other ways, such as providing education to the users of these products. When appropriate, we can help our patients understand the changes in the industry and help them realize the opportunities of advocating for themselves directly.”

Bernhardt’s passion for this area of work continues to grow. She has purposely taken action to expand her participation with organizations that promote increased access and education for mobility devices. “I am on the Executive Board of the Clinician Task Force and co-Chair for the Wheeled Mobility and Seating SIG at RESNA,” Bernhardt said. “I also participate as a RESNA liaison to NCART and as a board member of the Tennessee Chapter of the United Spinal Association. I’m also a Friend of NRRTS. These opportunities are important to me and my work as they allow me to grow and learn in so many ways.”

Bernhardt’s enthusiasm certainly has a positive impact on her patients and colleagues but influences her family as well.  “It is such a blessing to see how my small actions in trying to help others have had positive effects on our daughters,” Bernhardt said. “The girls have learned what it means to advocate for others. They have watched as I visit with Congressional Representatives. Through these shared experiences, Irene and Audrey have learned how each person we meet is a special and unique individual – no matter what type of limitation his/her physical body may have.”

You may reach Lorri Bernhardt at

Lorri Bernhardt, PT, MPT, ATP has 18 years of experience is a physical therapist. She spent 17 years at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in CA where she worked as an outpatient physical therapist. The last seven years at Rancho were dedicated to providing wheelchair and assistive technology assessments in the Seating Center. Bernhardt moved with her family to Nashville, Tenn where she now works in the Seating and Mobility Clinic at the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Bernhardt has provided lectures and education to a wide variety of audiences. Bernhardt is the co-chair for the RESNA Wheeled Mobility & Seating SIG, a Friend of NRRTS, a member of the APTA, and a certified ATP.