It's Time To Turn the Tide in Education

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By Paul Prusakowski, CPO, FAAOP

When I was in high school, I was lucky enough to stumble across orthotics and prosthetics as a career choice. My junior and senior year was spent continually flipping through the ragged pages of the Clinical Prosthetics and Orthotics journal that contained information and curriculum for all the O&P schools. Being from western New York, my mind was set on New York University (NYU), and two road trips to meet the faculty and tour the campus confirmed my desire to attend the school and get my bachelor of science degree in O&P.  

After completing high school and then working diligently at a local university to complete all the prerequisites, I was accepted by NYU, but within weeks my dreams were absolutely shattered as I was told that NYU would be shutting its doors in just a few short months. I quickly learned about the profession's dependency upon the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and how our O&P schools had traditionally been funded. I also learned that, besides the faculty at the universities, only a few professionals in leadership positions at the time were deeply concerned about the impact that this trend would have on the future of this great profession--and that not much was being done about it.

Since graduating from Florida International University (FIU), another O&P program that does not currently exist, I have been troubled by seeing little emphasis placed upon the importance of establishing our professional identity through the development of higher educational standards. As an industry, lots of effort has been spent over the last decade fighting for reimbursement issues, but that is only half the battle that needs to be fought.

Our schools kept shutting down or being threatened with being shut down. The recent issue of "who is a qualified provider" is an absolute no-brainer for those of us who have gone through an accredited O&P program.

The future of our profession lies not solely in reimbursement, but in defining who we are as professionals--and the only way to do that is through strengthening our educational pathways and not allowing them to deteriorate. Other allied healthcare professions have successfully elevated their entry-level standards, while we as a profession have just stood by the wayside to watch our educational centers and foundation wither away. It's time to turn the tide and take responsibility for our profession's future and fulfill some of the dreams of the visionaries who established the Academy's College Fund over a decade ago.

It's time for a new breed of O&P practitioner who is armed with the knowledge required to function in today's rapidly changing world. We can help create this future by identifying bright individuals and introducing them to O&P through the Academy's O&P Awareness Campaign ( www.opcareers.org). We can encourage them to apply to O&P schools, and by developing strong residency programs at our facilities, we can mentor interested college and high school students, recognizing that these students will one day lead our profession.

There have been signs of a revitalized enthusiasm for the establishment of new programs and higher educational standards for entering the profession of orthotics and prosthetics. Endeavors such as the new masters degree program at Georgia Tech, the promise of a new program in Florida at St. Petersburg College, and the saving of the California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) O&P Program through intervention by Ossur are telling signs that there is finally a shift beginning to occur.

The rest is up to us as O&P professionals to get involved at the grassroots level and work with our state associations, chapters, and national organizations to make education of future O&P practitioners an absolute priority. Our education is the only thing that will differentiate us from anyone else and define who we are as a profession and as truly qualified providers of comprehensive O&P care.

Paul E. Prusakowski, CPO, FAAOP, practices at his company, O&P Clinical Technologies, Gainesville, Florida. He also is president and founder of oandp.com. Contact him at paulcpo@oandp.com