Part 1: Recipe for a Master's Program from Scratch

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By Joshua B. Utay, MEd, CPO

Each of us has a unique answer as to why we entered such a distinct profession as O&P. This is mine: I listened to my mother.

From grade school and into high school, I was interested in pursuing a career in visual arts. After getting discouraged by an art teacher, I switched gears and began to prepare for a career in medicine. After the second time I took organic chemistry- neither time with good results-I reluctantly let go of that idea. When my mother asked what I planned to study in college, I had no good answer. She suggested combining my great interests of art and medicine without involving my nemesis, organic chemistry.

"What career could possibly combine both of those?" I countered.

"Prosthetics," she said simply.

"Isn't that making artificial limbs?" I asked.

"Well," said my mother, an elementary school and health teacher, "They are very real to the people who need them!" This influential conversation ended abruptly with a phone book on the dining room table and a cordless phone in my hand.

A quick look through the business directory yielded several phone numbers followed by visits to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas, and Prock O&P, Plano, Texas. After being exposed to prosthetics and the related practice of orthotics, I was hooked. I was accepted into the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) P&O program in my native Dallas, and so began a highly rewarding career in my chosen profession.

It may sound cliché, but I consider myself fortunate to be part of such a fascinating and worthwhile profession. It's been good to me, and I have long felt inspired to return the favor. When the opportunity arose to educate future practitioners, I jumped in.

As I see it, the profession supports the schools by identifying trends in patient care, innovative technological advancements, and deficits in existing concepts of treatments. Schools support the profession by codifying and transmitting clinical approaches, contributing to the body of peer-reviewed evidence that informs patient care, and providing recent graduates the tools necessary to assist existing practices to integrate such advances.

In April 2012, Program Director Jared Howell, CPO, and I officially began efforts to launch the master of science in orthotics and prosthetics (MSOP) at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Houston, Texas. From day one, it felt as if we were sitting in a control pod atop two immense rocket boosters that are BCM's tradition of excellence in medical education and its modern academic resources with which it is about to propel this new program. To paraphrase the control tower's encouraging words to us as we sit on the launch pad, "Buckle up."

Our first responsibilities include creating a curriculum and policies to withstand the accreditation rigors of the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) and BCM's own various academic committees, as well as engaging regional O&P clinical affiliates and getting the word out to potential students. We are counting down to July 2013, the target start date for the first class with an anticipated first graduation in December 2015.

It is starting with this perspective that I envisioned writing this column. It occurred to me that members of this profession may be interested in learning what steps are necessary to bring a master's level O&P program into existence starting from the beginning.

Over the next four quarters, until day one of class one, I will provide a front-row view of the challenges and tasks required to create an accredited curriculum, design and build a laboratory and classrooms suitable to the task, bring together highly qualified faculty members, and otherwise organize a new program with appropriately ambitious goals and deadlines.

So far, I have realized that Jared and I, and even BCM, will not undertake this process alone. Not overly apparent to me when I first became interested in professional education is the interconnected nature of the schools and NCOPE. Each institution with its individual goals and strengths works with the others by first identifying and then meeting the challenges inherent in producing competent new practitioners from bright, willing minds.

Successful paths are unique to each program, but key players often share maps and details of where landmines and pitfalls reside. I am now experiencing what I hope students in my classroom will also realize. Yes, we stand on our own feet and proclaim the unique perspectives and rights of our accomplishments. However, with humility and gratitude, we may realize that our feet are poised on the shoulders of giants in practice, industry, and academia, who came before us and left a legacy of greatness to follow.

Joshua B. Utay, MEd, CPO, is an instructor and assistant director of the master of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. He can be reached at