Program Profile Series: Alabama State University and Baylor College of Medicine

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The O&P EDGE continues its series of National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)-accredited master's level O&P educational programs.

Alabama State University, College of Health Sciences

This month we feature two master's level O&P programs. First is the Alabama State University Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program.

Students Lauren Cartwright and Dexter Constant in the lab. Photograph by David Campbell, courtesy of the ASU MSPO program.


Development of the MSPO program at Alabama State University (ASU), Montgomery, began in 2011; its first class began in fall 2012; and it received NCOPE accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) in April of this year. J. Chad Duncan, PhD, CRC, CPO, LPO, the O&P department chair and an associate professor in the College of Health Sciences, was instrumental in the program's development. Duncan, who comes from a background in medical rehabilitation care, describes what he calls the program's "holistic, rehabilitative approach" as "matching the individual to the process instead of the process to the individual. I always believe in seeing the individual first, then you start peeling back the layers to determine what process you're going to [clinicians] can have the maximum impact" The program was conceived to provide its graduates with an emphasis on the individual patient while using evidence-based outcome measures.


The MSPO program spans two years, including full-time course-work during the summer semester. Applicants must have 100 hours of O&P volunteer experience or exposure in at least two O&P-related settings and a recommendation from an O&P provider. Duncan feels these are important criteria for the students to complete to ensure their interest in the profession. "I don't think it will tax them, but I also think it assists them [in being] serious about applying to school." He also notes that the prosthetist who sees potential in a student may continue as a mentor throughout the student's career.

In addition to Duncan, the faculty includes Lee Childers, PhD, MSPO, CP, the first recipient of a doctoral degree in applied physiology with focus in prosthetics and orthotics, which he earned from the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Atlanta, in 2011. Kimberly Hill-Covalli, MSPO, CPO, also a Georgia Tech graduate, teaches orthotic courses and gross anatomy labs, and assists students during clinical rotations. A lab technician and a program associate round out the staff.

Throughout the five semesters, students take interdisciplinary courses with the college's rehabilitation sciences, physical therapy (PT), and occupational therapy (OT) students, including the first semester's gross and functional anatomy courses. "So there [are] pieces of knowledge being brought from different disciplines," says Duncan, "and students learn how the other disciplines view O&P and its goals and processes from the lens of their own field"


The program saw a jump in applications for the 2014 class, which Duncan credits, in part, to the completion of the accreditation process. The majority of students in the program received their undergraduate degrees in exercise science, range in age from 22 to 28, and began the program directly following their undergraduate work. Several students to date have earned a previous master's degree. The incoming class, which began in August, is made up of ten students, seven of whom are women. During the program's development, it was decided that the class size would start off small, with four students in 2012, and gradually increase to accommodate 12 students by 2017. However, Duncan says, the faculty has been able to successfully manage the program and the student cohort, so the schedule has been accelerated to admit more students than originally planned.

The first semester includes preparing the students for rotations by establishing expectations, learning documentation procedures, and using practice management software; clinical rotations begin in the second semester. Aside from rotations in local clinics and at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System, Montgomery, students may also have rotations at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, about 90 miles north of ASU. As a show of appreciation for the local clinicians who host student rotations, teach classes, and provide patient models, the MSPO program offers in-services for practitioners to earn continuing education units.

As part of the curriculum, students undertake research projects, which they begin preparing for during the first semester; they develop their areas of research and create proposals during the second semester. Proposals can be based on a college faculty member's ongoing research or another area of interest. Interdisciplinary groups of two to five students are then matched with a PT, OT, or O&P faculty member based on their mutual areas of interest; each student group has a faculty advisor and a research mentor outside the department.

MSPO student projects have included the development of a standardized and replicable uneven walkway to be used during gait testing; a test of socket angles for individuals with lower-limb amputations who bicycle; a study of the psychosocial impacts of upper-limb amputation; and the development of outcome-based measurements that can produce consistent results across practices.

Before graduation, the College of Health Sciences comes together for a symposium day during which the student groups present their research. The goal is for the research to be of publishable quality, in spite of the short timeframe for data collection, and such that future MSPO students or faculty can continue that research over time until it is ready for actual publication. "We're a pretty heavy clinical program, with the focus on out-comes-based research and practice," says Duncan. "Our students aren't purely researchers, but they are consumers of knowledge, and consumers of research, and how that impacts practice"

Baylor College of Medicine, School of Allied Health Sciences

The second program we feature is the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, Master of Science in Orthotics and Prosthetics (MSOP) program.

Student David Patterson checks TLSO trim lines with a patient model. Photographs courtesy of the BCM MSOP program.


The first MSOP class at the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Houston, Texas, School of Allied Health Sciences began in June 2013. As a newer program, it is currently a candidate for NCOPE-accreditation. Its site visit, the final step toward accreditation, is scheduled for this fall. BCM is situated within the Texas Medical Center (TMC), the largest medical complex in the world and home to an estimated 150,000 healthcare professionals and students. "We're...surrounded by 15 full-size hospitals and two specialty hospitals, so we have a huge opportunity here in terms of access to patients and patient care," says Program Director Jared Howell, MS, CPO, LPO. TMC "provides [students with] comprehensive exposure to relevant cases and plenty of hands-on learning experiences," he says.

BCM's MSOP program has been able to incorporate several unique aspects into its educational efforts, including a paperless curriculum, multiple cross-disciplinary training experiences, and early work with outside patient models. In addition,

Howell says, it is the only program in the country to integrate the requirements for NCOPE-approved orthotics and prosthetics residencies into the program itself to prepare students to sit for certification exams in both disciplines upon graduation.

Student Casey Parham prepares a TLSO as MSOP Assistant Director Joshua Utay looks on.


In 2008, the early stage of its development, program developers decided to model the program's 30-month span after the other allied health programs at BCM that have successfully used an "integrated didactic and clinical education model for the last 30 years" says Howell. The program includes a 12-month instruction portion that begins in June of the first year. The clinical and research portion takes place during the following 18 months, or three semesters. It is during this portion of the program that students complete six three-month, full-time clinical rotations that allow them to complete their residencies concurrently with their master's degrees.

The MSOP faculty includes a program administrator and five full-time faculty, all of whom are certified prosthetists and/ or orthotists. More than 60 instructors, primarily physicians, physical therapists, O&P clinicians, researchers, and medical personnel, have participated in the program.


Potential students can apply for the program via NCOPE's Orthotics and Prosthetics Centralized Application Service. They are strongly encouraged to have O&P shadowing or hands-on experience, and to include at least one reference from an O&P clinician with their application. As with other O&P master's programs, many of the students range in age from their mid-20s to early 30s when they begin the program and have bachelor's degrees in a variety of fields including engineering, kinesiology, allied health disciplines, or basic sciences.

The MSOP faculty maintains in-depth knowledge about each clinical rotation and residency site that hosts students, including what types of patients and with what frequency they will be seen at each location. The faculty keeps in close contact with the residency mentors, or "preceptors," in charge of the students, and the preceptors have a clear understanding of what knowledge and training students should gain in their time at the facility.

In the first year of their residency, students complete four core rotations-orthotics, prosthetics, pediatrics, and in a hospital environment-at residency sites primarily in Houston or San Antonio, Texas. After each rotation, students are tested on what they should have learned, and participate in follow-up discussions about clinical cases. The preceptor's feedback contributes to the student's academic grade.

Because BCM is "a research-focused institution," students' final projects include a research or a development track, which can include data collection, work with patients, or a retrospective or prospective analysis. "In the case of a development project, students are required to define, design, and prototype a clinically relevant product or part related to orthotic and prosthetic care for an individual," explains Howell. Students select their final project during their first year, are paired with an MSOP faculty member and another BCM mentor, and are given a half day every week throughout their residencies to conduct that research. Their final research presentation must be a "clinically relevant,...publishable-quality manuscript," he says. Current student projects include researching flexible materials selection for transfemoral prosthetic sockets, and quantifying muscle activation in Paralympic sprinters with lower-limb amputations to determine if and what muscle combinations are used, compared to those used by able-bodied sprinters, with the goal to inform the training protocol for the study group.

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.