Program Profile Series: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
The O&P EDGE continues its series of National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)-accredited master's level O&P educational programs.
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Master of Prosthetics-Orthotics (MPO) program.
With a history of O&P education going back to 1982, one of the strengths of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern) program, according to Susan Kapp, MEd, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, program director and associate professor, is its on-campus clinic where MPO faculty have been seeing patients since 1984. She says, "The funds that we generate out of the clinic go directly back into supporting the academic program. Frankly, we would not be able to have as strong of a program as we do if we didn't have a clinic." Students are encouraged to observe in the clinic, which is adjacent to the program's classroom space, and may be quizzed about patient care while they are there. The clinic's proximity also gives instructors the ability to pull students from the classroom into the clinic for a particularly pertinent case.
The five-semester, 18-month MPO program is part of the School of Health Professions, under the auspice of the Department of Health Care Sciences. The MPO curriculum requires a school-wide professional development course that extends over two semesters, which teaches the interpersonal skills needed among healthcare professionals. In this course, students work in small, mixed-discipline groups of ten and study topics such as effective communication, team building, and conflict management. UT Southwestern is an academic medical institution designed to educate students seeking degrees in medicine, biomedical research, and health education and, as such, has a medically focused "overarching theme that runs across the entire campus for an entire year," as Kapp describes it. Topics such as aging, medical genetics, and innate immunity have been recent themes.
Kapp says that the MPO program admissions team has found that students are having more difficulty gaining hours of work or volunteer experience in O&P prior to receiving training because of their own time constraints, often due to other paid employment commitments, and the limitations of practices able to accommodate them. So O&P experience is not a program prerequisite. However, "what we do require is that [students] demonstrate... some serious investigation into the field," she says, including visiting O&P clinics and speaking to several clinicians about their work and job satisfaction. Applicants demonstrate their knowledge of the profession in the interview process, which is conducted by two faculty members. Prospective applicants, who often travel from out of state to attend the interview, can survey MPO classes as part of their decision-making process.
The program's research space has recently grown by 1,500 square feet, due in part to the work of mechanical engineer and assistant professor Fan Gao, PhD, who is performing O&P research on O&P componentry and their mechanical properties, and functional level evaluations; Gao is the only nonclinician of the seven-person faculty.
About half of the recent MPO classes have been made up of engineering students, many of whom worked in their discipline before finding "they just didn't have enough people interaction to satisfy them," explains Kapp. Biology, applied physiology, and kinesiology graduates are also highly represented in the program. Kapp says that for their incoming class of 15, which began in May, they received 80 applications, an increase over last year, which she attributes to applicants' ability to apply to multiple O&P master's programs through NCOPE's Orthotics and Prosthetics Centralized Application Service (OPCAS). Most notably, Kapp says that "the quality of the applicants is absolutely going up," leading the MPO faculty to schedule interviews with about half of the applicants.
As part of the program's experimental research requirement, students support faculty research projects. Beginning in the third semester, students prepare a proposal for their research projects. The fourth semester is spent collecting data for the project, and in the fifth and final semester the students complete the data analysis and present their findings.
"What's nice about having these topics faculty-driven rather than student-driven is [that] to get enough data it takes...multiple years," says Kapp, whose student-participated research is studying gait, balance, and posture in users of prosthetic feet. "So we carry these projects onto year two and sometimes year three to collect enough data so that it actually becomes publishable." Each student presents the results of his or her work to an audience of about 60 people from the UT Southwestern campus, local healthcare facilities, and the community. The MPO program has made it possible for clinicians who attend the presentations to earn American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) continuing education credits.
Aside from working on their research, students spend four weeks of their fourth semester working full-time at clinical sites. The MPO program has affiliation agreements with facilities around the country and internationally, including Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In their final semester, students have clinical practice once a week at physician-led local clinics that are not strictly O&P practices, and include physical therapy; orthopedic surgery; the county hospital for diabetes-related foot problems; Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas; or the amputee clinic at the Dallas VA Medical Center, to gain insight into the larger picture of the O&P clinician's role in patient care. "One of our strengths is offering a very sound, clinically based education, and that's because we all, as faculty, see patients every day," Kapp says of the program. "And so we bring that right back into the classroom."
Editor's note: Articles in this series do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any program. Programs will be covered in an order determined by the editor, and all NCOPE-accredited O&P master's degree programs will be given the opportunity to be featured.
To read about previously featured programs, visit the archives and search for program profile series.