Time Well Spent

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By John Pope, MS, MPO, CSCS
man wearing many hats

O&P practitioners wear many hats: We are care providers, problem solvers, scientists, motivational speakers, marketers, teachers, and psychologists. As a new practitioner, it is easy to focus on the plan of care and lose focus on the patients themselves. What are they thinking and feeling? What are their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations? How will this information affect the plan of care and, more importantly, the outcome?

I have learned that the best practitioners wear all the hats I mentioned at once, quickly transitioning from care provider and problem solver, to psychologist, listener, and teacher. I found myself overlooking the last two, and it took some sharp words from someone I respect to point that out to me. It is easy, as a resident, to get caught up in the plan of care and to focus on what you are doing and whether you are doing it correctly (which is important). But you should not neglect concentrating on why you are doing it, who you are doing it for, and how you can do it better.

Recently, I had the opportunity to shadow a practitioner outside of the practice where I am completing my residency. I asked him how his approach changed when treating a patient with a higher activity level. He stopped me and told me that he knew that I meant, "Do the clinical concepts and considerations change?" But, he told me, it is important to understand that no matter who the patient is or the problem presented, the approach does not change. Talk to the patient on a personal level, build a rapport, educate the patient, and create an environment where vulnerability is embraced. I'd like to share what I observed and what I took from that experience.

Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, defines vulnerability as "uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.... It is being brave enough to put yourself out there even when you have no control over the outcome." This is what we expect from our patients without realizing how difficult it can be.

While shadowing the practitioner, I observed firsthand how this definition can unfold, and how to create a safe environment for vulnerability as he took the time to draw pictures and diagrams, define problems, and provide treatment solutions while always explaining why. From this experience, I gained a better understanding of what it truly means to be an O&P healthcare professional.

Many of our patients are coming to us with problems they are unable to fix on their own or may not understand. They may be scared, angry, frustrated, or just looking for answers. By spending time on the front end, talking to them, and teaching, you will go a long way toward connecting, creating resonance, and developing trust and rapport with your patients.


I would like to thank Aaron Fitzsimmons, CP, OT, FAAOP, of The Surgical Clinic, headquartered in Nashville, for allowing me to shadow and observe at his practice. I went there to observe an Amputee Blade Runner's weekend during which two patients received running prostheses. I left with a better understanding of patient care, a few tips and tricks, and the realization that I have a long way to go.

John Pope, MS, MPO, CSCS, is a resident at Orthopedic Appliance Company, headquartered in Asheville, North Carolina.