Recipe for a Master’s Program from Scratch

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By Joshua B. Utay, MEd, CPO

Part 2 in our exclusive coverage of the development of the master of science in orthitics and prosthetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

My shoes are too clean!

The transition from full-time clinician to full-time educator has been striking. The most obvious change in my daily environment is that my shoes have yet to be covered in plaster or dust at the end of a workday. Also missing are wrestling a kicking, screaming child's fiberglass-covered ankle to two degrees of dorsiflexion and sweating behind foggy goggles and a facemask while sanding a carbon-reinforced epoxy socket.

New to me are an office with a door that closes and long days filled with low-volume meetings that, despite yielding no finished devices and not fitting any patients, are considered extremely productive. From behind this closed door, newly formed task lists translate into phone calls, e-mail messages, drafts of curriculum and handbook documents, architectural blueprints, budget justifications, and, of course, more task lists.

Chief among these tasks is the creation of a curriculum that contains all the necessary elements of a modern O&P practice. The National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) provides standards and competencies required for an accredited O&P education program, and we must assemble our program into a coherent structure.

What Is Your Mission Statement?

Summing up our program into finite statements that define, distinguish, and epitomize our efforts, hopes, and ambitions is a daunting task. Creating such a summary is much more an exercise in editing than writing. It takes less brain power (but much more time) to compose far longer manuscripts like our student handbook.

While it is incumbent upon us to establish and include in our handbook policies and procedures that answer the questions students and stakeholders will inevitably ask about a multifaceted academic program, fortunately, we do not have to start that document completely from scratch. At the start of this process, I envisioned this stage of creating a master's degree program in O&P would simply be about creating curriculum and preparing for the eventual students. Now, even before we have received a single application, I can see that success is about relationship building and successfully involving stakeholders in the common cause of comprehensively preparing future generations of practitioners.

A Community Effort

On paper, the master's degree curriculum team is small and includes three people. In practice, the team is enormous! This is due to the collaborative nature of this institution. The Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) anatomy department, for example, will not only allow our students to attend lectures and labs with the medical students, but it also has customized its offerings to our program's needs and enthusiastically encouraged us to share aspects of our unique practices with interested medical students. BCM's medical ethics professor has allowed our participation in her class and offered to involve our students in her research on relevant medical decision making. The vice president of information technology is assisting us in pioneering a customizable curriculum management and delivery platform. The executive director of medical marketing is helping us to establish a formidable web presence and related print marketing and informational materials.

Closer to home base, administrators and faculty members of the Physician Assistant Studies and Nurse Anesthesia programs have been extremely helpful as we begin to define our program's structure and identity. Much of the content of our handbook mirrors that of these well-respected and highly ranked allied-health sciences programs.

Advocacy on Every Level

I am pleased to report that our initial efforts have resulted in a mission statement that calls for students to become practitioners who advocate for their patients' needs. By direct extension, BCM O&P faculty members will advocate for the needs of our students, our program, and our profession, including raising awareness and funds.

As the leaders of an O&P education program, my colleagues and I have the privilege of addressing state and national congressional representatives on behalf of our profession and its revered educational institutions. We have the responsibility to educate legislators about our needs and the interaction of legislation and the education of healthcare clinicians.

This new role has made me realize that like the university manuscripts we are creating, documents intended for busy lawmakers must be direct and efficient while still being complete and compelling.

These processes are similar to an orthotist advocating for the proper use and care of an orthosis by the user, a family member advocating for proper care of their loved one by the healthcare professional, a prosthetist advocating for proper care of a practice, a practice advocating for the well-being of its community, or elected leaders advocating for an entire profession-the difference is just a matter of scope.

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