O&P Awareness Committee: Joining Together to Attract Future Practitioners

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By Judith Otto

Does the general public-including potential students-know we exist? Although "we're not as invisible as we were 15 years ago," as John Michael, MEd, CPO, FISPO, FAAOP, observed, the majority of people have still never heard of the orthotics and prosthetics profession. Unless people have had an experience or a relative who has worn a prosthesis, they're probably unfamiliar with O&P. Potential practitioner candidates have no idea of how to get into the profession.

It's an issue that most O&P practitioners agree needs to be attacked nationwide with a full-scale marketing effort.

Such an effort is already in progress!

Tom Gorski, CAE, executive director of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP), described the formation of the Joint Committee on O&P Awareness in response to the perceived need to publicize and promote the O&P profession in order to attract new practitioners to the field.

The Awareness Committee is a coordinated effort of several O&P organizations: the Academy, the Academy's College Fund (a separate organization), the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA), the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ABC), the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), the O&P Assistance Fund (OPAF), and the National Association for the Advancement of Orthotics and Prosthetics (NAAOP). Each group has a representative on the committee.

The new committee met for the first time in March 2002 to identify and assess the problem, Gorski said, adding, "There is...a growing concern that we must act now or in a few years, there won't be enough practitioners to handle the load."

The US Department of Education, under the Rehabilitative Services Administration, is awarding a $1 million grant to the Academy, which will go toward activities to promote national awareness and a new recruitment campaign, Gorski explained. "The committee's goal is to increase student applications to O&P schools by 10 percent within the first year-and our success will be measured by the number of students entering O&P college programs in September 2003."

The committee mobilized quickly and has acted promptly, Gorski said.

Its immediate priorities are:

1) To establish a website for career information on orthotics and prosthetics. (which should soon be available at www.opcareers.org ) This "very complete site" will include for the first time in one place everything you could possibly want to know about O&P as a profession, including what it's like to be an orthotist or prosthetist, the skills and aptitude required, the grades needed, what schools offer O&P programs, what to study, and whether you can be an O&P practitioner if you have a degree in English. (Yes.)

     "The site is like one-stop shopping for a career in O&P," Gorski said.

2) To develop a brochure for high school guidance counselors' use. The brochure explains what an orthotist or prosthetist does and directs recipients to the website for more information.

3) To produce a slide show and script available to practitioners who want to participate in local Career Day events and talk to students.

4) To ensure that O&P is included in career books, including a US government publication that does not mention orthotics and prosthetics as a career choice, and does not include O&P in the list of allied health professions.

5) To update and expand the O&P-related information available at career-oriented websites. Although two known websites commonly accessed by guidance counselors do mention O&P, their information is out of date, especially regarding salary expectations, Gorski said.

"There's going to be a need in the very near future for more orthotists and prosthetists," said David Schultz, CPO, AOPA president. "With the baby boomers coming of age, there's going to be more illness and more need for rehabilitation, and I think this O&P Awareness Committee is starting off at just the right time. It's going to get the word out as to what we do."