Advice for O&P Newbies From Those Who Have Been There

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By Judith Philipps Otto

To new ones in the orthotics and prosthetics field, those that have been there, done that often can provide practical advice to help them to hang on to those high ideals while they navigate the real world.

Justin Foster, CPO, who, when fresh out of school, raised questions regarding, among other things, how O&P practitioners could justify high prices and accusing them of becoming fat cats by feeding on patient needs: Be ready for change! It is so cliché, but I think the ability to constantly adapt to the environment is absolutely crucial to ultimate success. Healthcare has not and will not tolerate those who do not move forward. Can you imagine if we were still cracking skulls to allow evil spirits to escape? Taking the lessons of old and combining them with new ideas and technology will allow us to advance to ever-greater heights!

Alberto Esquenazi, MD, chair, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Albert Einstein and Moss Rehab, and director, Amputee Rehabilitation Center, Moss Rehab, Philadelphia: You need to enter this field with a clear frame of mind. Why are you doing this? If people are growing in the field of healthcare, they should study the rules of the game. We are not seeing the rules change. However, you must go in with a clear frame of mind: Im not going into healthcare because its a moneymaker& Im not going into healthcare because Im going to cure everyone in the world& but Im going into healthcare because these are the goals that I hope to achieve.

Jan Stokosa, CP, Stokosa Prosthetic Clinic, Okemos, Michigan: Be true to your heart. If you really want to help people, then move with it, and find ways in which you can survive life-wise. Youve got to be able to work with your hands and not just with your brain and your fingers on a keyboard. Youve got to know materials; youve got to be able to fabricate things yourself because, despite all these costly component elements of the prosthesis, we must find ways to keep costs downdo it faster, do it more economically, so that reimbursement and the margin of profit is still there for us to continue. Otherwise, large organizations--some not directly related or interested--will dominate, and the quality of care will further diminish.

Bill Guthrie, Oklahoma State University, Okmulgee: I would suggest that [students] get a focus on healthcare and look into DNA, bionics, and robotics. The future is what I would look at, instead of the presentbecause it changes too fast.

Charles Levy, MD, chief, Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System: If you are not going to move to a country with universal healthcare, then I think it is wise to be prepared to work in a capitalistic, business-oriented healthcare system. Business values are not the same as humanistic values. That doesnt mean that they are incompatible, just that one had to be mindful of both. This often demands resourcefulness, compromise, creativity, and sometimes personal sacrifice. If it were easy, it would be more common.
With those cautions, I would encourage a young practitioner to hold tight to his or her values, and to craft a life and a practice that includes his or her vision. It can be very rewarding.

Summer Morris, another Okmulgee O&P program student, now working at Able Brace and Limb in Monette, Missouri: Keep a very open mind; learn as much as you can in school. Ill tell you one important thing Ive learned in this field: theres more than one way to skin a cat! Theres the schools way, theres my first bosss way, and now theres my current bosss way. I learned three different ways to do thingsand there is a LOT to learn in this field. Soak it all in. Absorb as much as you can and have an open mind and heart.

Michael Davidson, CPO, clinical manager, Loma Linda University Orthopaedic & Rehabilitation Institute, Loma Linda, California: Go to an event sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation and see just what people with horrible disabilities are able to accomplishand that will help set your perspective. You will definitely have a new attitude by the end of the day.
If youre in this field for the money, youre in the wrong profession. The rewards, although intangible, are far greater than any paycheck.

Michael J. Allen, CPO, FAAOP, Allen O&P Inc., Midland, Texas: My advice would be to provide the best-quality care possible and to become active in your profession and represent it on the local, state, and federal levels. Its going to require professionals representing the profession. It is the responsibility of the professionals to chart the course of the O&P profession.