A Case for Developing an O&P Baccalaureate in Applied Science

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As an instructor in an O&P technology program for more than 13 years, I have been privileged to watch as students progressed from uncertain observers to confident professionals in their pursuit of an associate in applied science (AAS) degree and begin careers in a worthy and vital profession. The AAS degree is a terminal degree, which means the credits awarded for the mandatory core technical courses (70-80 percent of the typical 90 credits) are not considered academically rigorous enough for transference to a receiving college. The remaining 20-30 percent of credits are transferable to a four-year university or college for related general education courses.

While working in O&P practices, our graduates occasionally become interested in the clinical aspects of the profession, and investigate what additional coursework is necessary to obtain a baccalaureate degree in preparation for applying to a master of science in prosthetics and orthotics (MSPO) program. They often find that to meet the provisions of a typical bachelor of science (BS) degree will require returning to college at the firstyear level. The prospect of returning to college full time for several more years and incurring considerable debt in the process can deter an otherwise engaged and committed student from furthering his or her career.

I believe there can be a viable education pathway for technicians who have discovered the breadth of what the O&P profession offers. I advocate for a baccalaureate in applied science (BAS) degree that community colleges can develop as the requisite undergraduate degree for applying to an MSPO program. This BAS degree would include credits from technical O&P instruction, elements of the O&P assistant education standards under development by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education, and other prerequisite coursework derived from a review of MSPO program admission requirements. The overall academic rigor of the proposed BAS degree would be on par with general BS degrees, providing confidence in the graduate's baseline skills and commitment when he or she is being considered for admission to an MSPO program.

At the other end of this process, as MSPO programs evaluate applicants, I would ask that they consider a BAS degree with a fresh perspective. This degree archetype has evolved from business and technical backgrounds as a way to acknowledge the advanced applied education and expertise accumulated by professionals in those areas. MSPO programs require their applicants to possess a baccalaureate in any academic major as long as prerequisite coursework is either part of or in addition to that degree. I submit that a well-constructed BAS degree could be just as relevant.

Concerted efforts and engagement by all stakeholders in the post-secondary educational system could result in the targeted development of future O&P clinicians possessing the passion, skills, and devotion to the betterment of their patients and community. A more open-minded approach to the consideration of potential candidates will, in the end, yield better graduates.

Bernard Hewey, CPO, is the orthotics instructor at the Spokane Falls Community College Orthotic & Prosthetic Technician program. He can be contacted at bernard.hewey@sfcc.spokane.edu.