Five Questions for Wendy Smith, RTP, CP(c), CCA

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Wendy Smith is the owner of Lifeart Prosthetics Inc., West St. Paul, Manitoba, Canada, a business that provides a rare blend of services to patients wanting exceptionally lifelike prostheses. Her painstakingly cast, layered, and colored functional and cosmetic prostheses, which include custom breast forms, hands, fingers, upper limbs, shoulders, and non-implant retained facial prostheses are only part of her offerings. The Ontario native also offers patients advice on clothing choices, has designed fashions for breast cancer survivors, and can tattoo prostheses and turn body castings into lively ceramic art.

Smith lives in Winnipeg with her husband and three children. She is a talented artist who paints, draws, sculpts, sews, plays guitar, and makes fabric mosaics and body sculptures. She says, "I love music, flowers, and reading, and I love to walk-I get my best ideas out walking."

1. How did you become interested in O&P?

I took an aptitude test many years ago and was presented with a list of careers I might be interested in. The first one was prosthetist. Others were radio sound mixer, cattle farmer, teacher, and "making artificial eyes." I investigated and fell in love with this field.

2. How has your career progressed?

I attended George Brown College, Toronto, for my technical training. My first job was at Health Sciences Centre, Winnipeg. After becoming registered, I graduated with honors from my clinical training, then was certified in 1988. Patients used to come in wanting fingers, so I decided to teach myself how to make really lifelike fingers. Soon after, I started Lifeart Prosthetics Inc. Doctors and therapists started sending me unusual cases, and I developed my own techniques. I started the "Breast Dressed" program about seven years ago, making custom prostheses for women with breast cancer. I recently became a certified clinical anaplastologist. It has been challenging, but there has also been a natural flow to my career.

3. What are your top priorities/goals when working with a patient?

I treat the "whole person," especially my ladies with breast cancer. I also listen carefully to what they say; the assessment and initial appointments are the longest. Having a holistic approach to patient care works the best, and I get a lot of satisfaction from it. A sense of humor is crucial. When I see someone, I want them to feel at ease and know that I will help them to the best of my ability.

4. What are your personal and/or professional goals?

To keep discovering better ways of making prostheses. To blend prosthetic treatment with art, fashion, and everyday concerns, and to raise awareness about prostheses in general. To break down some of the barriers for women with cancer and help them return to "normal" activities, fashions, and their fabulous selves.

5. What advice would you give to someone just entering the O&P profession?

Be passionate about what you do. Don't be afraid to specialize. Find an aspect of O&P and be the best at it. Have a good, well-rounded education and never stop learning. Leave arrogance at the door; you'll learn more. Ask lots of questions, and it's OK to say you don't know everything. Let your creative monster run wild sometimes. Be tenacious and never give up. Taking time for yourself is extremely important.