Finding a Rhythm, Changing Beats

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By Kristin Carnahan

Having been in graduate school for two long, busy, sometimes grueling, and often adventure-packed years, it is still hard to believe that my time at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is already over. I accomplished, learned, and experienced a lot during that time, but I feel as though I was just starting to find a rhythm in O&P. I suppose it is appropriate to take that newly found rhythm and set out into a residency at this point, so the disruption is not necessarily a bad thing. Reflecting on my graduate school experience, I appreciate that there is a community within and around Georgia Tech that helped to foster my education and professional development. This community is made up not only of instructors, administrative staff, advisors, and fellow students, but also includes local O&P practitioners, physical and occupational therapists, physicians, visiting lecturers, and our dedicated patient models. I admit that at times I would have described this conglomeration of people as chaotic at best. However, without such a network of support and encouragement, I don t believe I would have found the comfort of a rhythm that will soon be challenged by the new drum beat of a different community.

I will not claim that anything I am about to describe is unique to our program because I have not seen or experienced any other O&P programs for comparison. I do believe, however, that one relatively unique aspect of the Georgia Tech MSPO program is that students are involved (and when I say involved, I mean intimately) in the program for two full academic years. Our clinical rotation hours, course requirements, and research studies were all spread out over this time. While the coursework and some of the early clinical rotations were planned out for us, the bulk of our clinical hours and all of our research time were left for us to coordinate during our "free time." This arrangement made each students overall experience somewhat individualized to his or her own personality and planning style. I can only elaborate on my own experience within this framework, so I will try to describe my impressions of the Georgia Tech MSPO community, starting with the basement.

The Georgia Tech MSPO program is located snugly within the confines of the first floor of a building that is mostly dedicated to aerospace engineering. While it is not technically a basement, the cinderblock walls and lack of windows lend to the general basement-like feeling. My classmates and I spent countless hours here listening to lectures, working in the lab, goofing off in the student office, and working with patient models. We consumed a lot of caffeine and maybe even snuck in a few naps during lectures, but overall a massive amount of information was presented, elaborated on, questioned, and discussed. We were always encouraged to challenge concepts and methods, and we certainly did so often, possibly to the frustration of our instructors and guest lecturers. I appreciated the open environment in which attempts were made to delineate solid reasoning and prove the effectiveness of a multitude of O&P practices, though I know that we have only just begun to scratch the surface.

Moving on from conceptual discussions, the basement was also the place in which we encountered our first patient models and made our first attempts at patient care. In my experience, these willing souls provided a critical link to the world outside the basement and represented the most important players in the MSPO community. I will never forget the first prosthetic socket I made, but more importantly, I will never forget the patient for whom I made it. Without reservation, these men and women shared their stories and experiences with us. I remember thinking early on that most of our patient models had been receiving orthotic or prosthetic care for many years and seemed very well-adjusted. I learned that the term "well-adjusted" is a misnomer, as many of our new friends opened up to us to the point of shedding tears. They shared with us as much as they could articulate what life has been like for them since having an amputation or being diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease. In addition to providing us an opportunity for hands-on experience with patients, our patient models also provided a foundation for relating to a patient as a whole person.

Outside of the basement, there were many other players in our MSPO community, not the least of whom were many Atlanta-area O&P practitioners. These men and women made their facilities available for clinical rotations, became resources for us when we were developing case studies or writing research papers, and occasionally lectured on campus or assisted with demonstrations of fabrication or patient casting and fitting. Other participants outside of the basement ranged from vendors, visiting practitioners, and manufacturers to the many people we encountered at professional meetings.

I guess you could say in the case of the MSPO program that it takes a village to raise a future O&P practitioner. I am thankful for my time within that community and the rhythm that they helped me find. As I start my orthotic residency later this summer at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, I look forward to finding my place within that facility and the larger O&P community as a whole.

Kristin Cornahan is a graduate of the MSPO Program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. The O&P EDGE is grateful to her for sharing her experiences as she completed her two-year program.