O&P: A Profession Still in the Making

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By Donald E. Katz

Relative to some others in healthcare, orthotics and prosthetics is a fairly young profession, if one accepts the definition as requiring a collected body of knowledge, the development of standards and ethics, ongoing research, and a commitment to lifelong learning. On many levels, those defining elements are still in development.

Thirty-four years ago the Academy was founded by some forward-thinking orthotists and prosthetists certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics & Prosthetics (ABC) who appreciated the need for a professional association for individual practitioners who can focus their efforts in furthering both scientific and education attainments of the field. Today, the Academy is as vibrant as ever, with almost countless initiatives being pursued to fulfill this never-ending charge.

Professional Development: Now and into the Future

The largest collection of activities by the Academy toward the continued development of the profession are contained within Project Quantum Leap. These include the documenting of Clinical Standards of Practice through multidisciplinary consensus conferences, establishing a "Master Agenda" of topics for these conferences and subsequent research areas, studying the need for post-graduate P&O education within the United States, and taking steps necessary to continue the viability of the profession by attracting talented young minds. These activities are perhaps the most important ever undertaken by the Academy and will not be accomplished in two years or even ten. They are the first steps of many toward cementing the professionalism within the profession.

Fellow Program Promotes Professionalism

Another way the Academy promotes professionalism is through its Fellow program. The intent of this program is to recognize those members who demonstrate a sustained commitment to professional development and excellence in education. Members began earning this title in 1998 with 26 inductees, and the number of Fellows has since swelled to a current total of 266. Recently, the Academy Board revised some of the criteria for those seeking the distinction, as well as for those interested in renewing the title (which is every five years). The purpose of the changes was to further recognize the various ways in which an individual practitioner can contribute to his or her professional society or even the community we serve.

Dr. Marc Asher said it best in his Presidential Address to the Scoliosis Research Society in 1997 when he stated, "Fellowship is a responsibility, not a credential." Those that serve the Academy through volunteer leadership, whether through their local chapters or among the many opportunities within the national organization, truly help "chart the course" for the future of the O&P profession.

We are obligated to be as forward-thinking with our actions today as were our founders some three decades ago. Ensuring the viability and success of accredited schools, being proactive in making more young people aware of the very existence of the field of P&O as a potential career choice, and establishing standards of care by which future professionals can assess clinical advances are just a few examples of some of the more far-reaching Academy goals and initiatives of today.

Be Both Student and Teacher

"When you teach your son, you teach your son's son." A writing from the Talmud, this paradigm has as much to do with being a professional as anything else. All orthotists and prosthetists should discipline themselves to be both student and teacher. After all, the word "discipline" means "to teach." This attitude is germane to interactions an orthotist or prosthetist may have with a resident practitioner, another colleague, a visiting student, or simply a patient on how best to make use of the service we provide. Creating a culture of intellectual curiosity in our day-to-day practice will serve not only to buoy the level of clinical practice of prosthetics and orthotics, but also enhance the level of professionalism into the future. Fostering this culture of professionalism should always be an underlying theme for the multitude of important endeavors by the Academy.

Don Katz, CO, LO, FAAOP, is an associate fellow with the Scoliosis Research Society and director of the Orthotics Department at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas.