Attracting Future Practitioners: UT Southwestern

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By Judith Otto

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, is pushing public awareness with an outreach program that casts its O&P alumni as ambassadors. Their website, www.utsouthwestern.edu/po, not only defines O&P as an attractive career prospect, but also encourages website visitors to "visit a P&O professional" in their area by clicking on a state. The site's locator directs them to their nearest practicing UT Southwestern P&O alumnus.

Susan Kapp, CPO, assistant professor and director, UT Southwestern Prosthetics-Orthotics Program, explained that, although the School of Allied Health has always had a very effective recruitment program, about four years ago applications decreased noticeably. Two years later, the situation was worsening-to the extent, said Kapp, that the Admissions Office took note and sat down with her to brainstorm a solution.

"When they looked at our applicant pool, as compared to other programs in the school, they noted that more than half of our students came from around the country, very much unlike the PT or PA programs, where most applicants are from within the state," Kapp continued.

They determined that the most cost-effective way to recruit out-of-state students was through a website, said Kapp, as opposed to mailing nationally or actually traveling to reach prospective students. "The first place many people are going to look these days is the web, anyway," Kapp pointed out. "So that's where the idea came from to build a website that would reach nationwide."

The idea for the click-on map that invites guests to "visit a P & O professional" actually came from the director of alumni affairs, who recalled that the medical school had a similar program called "A Day with the Doc," which allows medical students in search of a specialty to look for alums from Southwestern in the specialty area, contact them and/or spend time with them.

 "We used that model to build our site and locator map," Kapp explained.

The site was planned early last summer and actually launched in September.

"It was fast!" Kapp admitted. "We got good support from our web developers here on campus, as well as from our admissions office."

Every alumnus received a letter asking them to participate in the program and to confirm their willingness to respond to inquiries from prospective students. Follow-up was done by phone or e-mail to reach those alumni who failed to respond. To date, "maybe half of the contacted alumni" have agreed to be listed, covering not quite 50 states yet, Kapp said.

In conjunction with the website, Southwestern created a poster guiding prospects to the site and mailed it to clinicians, guidance counselors, physical therapists, physician assistants, and other potential sources.

"There are few places on the web for career changers to find information about what prosthetists and orthotists actually do. If you can get folks to the site, the battle is won," she said.

No measurement system is in place to determine how many alumni have been contacted by potential O&P students as a result of the website; nor how many applicants have been influenced by the program, although some students report that they have been in touch with Southwestern O&P graduates-"whether as a result of our web site or not, I can't say for certain," reported Kapp.

O&P Practitioner "Profiling"

Another idea for attracting more O&P students came from John Michael, MEd, CPO, FISPO, FAAOOP, president of CPO Services. Michael suggested that a profile be developed of people now applying for positions or currently enrolled in O&P schools and programs. This profile can then be used to reach other similar types. "Let's try to figure why good applicants entered the field despite the specter of managed care, then target our marketing program accordingly," he advised.

The objective, he said, should be to attract not necessarily more applicants, but more topnotch applicants.

"Many career changers have also done well in the field," he pointed out. "But how do we get top-level folks to switch careers to O&P?"

He cited an aerospace engineer and experts in other fields who have successfully switched to O&P, and pointed out that he spent five or six years in the psychology field before choosing to "stop talking and do something!"

The O&P Awareness Committee of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP) is targeting those people already in the job force who are desirous of making a career change. [Editor's note: For more information about the Academy's O&P Awareness initiative, please see the article on page 22 of the September issue of The O&P EDGE or read it online.]

"A few years ago there was a glut of PTs graduating, and not enough jobs available to accommodate the supply of thousands," said Tom Gorski, CAE, the Academy's executive director. "O&P is a wonderful option for physical therapists. They already have the basic anatomy and basic health courses O&P practitioners need-as do others in the allied health professions and many military-trained people who have received valuable on-the-job training."

Morris Gallo, CPO, a member of the Florida licensure board and one of the architects of the state's licensure law, also identified physical therapists, physiatrists, and occupational therapists as people who share the same core science knowledge as O&P practitioners and could make an easy transition out of their field and into O&P. "This may be a valuable pool of future practitioners, since the commonly shared foundation knowledge is already there," he commented.

Mark Edwards, CP, director of Prosthetics Education, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, noted that those individuals who need to be aware of the O&P profession are those with biomedical engineering background; and those who share allied health backgrounds, who may have heard things about the profession also need to be targeted.

Judith Otto is a freelance writer based in Holly Springs, Mississippi.