Exploring Your Options as an O&P Educator

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By Sara L. Peterson, PhD, CPO, FAAOP, and Taavy A. Miller, MSPO, CPO

To continue to educate future O&P practitioners, there is a need for experienced certified practitioners to consider teaching. There are two avenues O&P practitioners can take to assist with teaching: They can teach in a National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) residency or in a master's degree program. As stated by Wendy Beattie, CPO, FAAOP, program director at Eastern Michigan University, "the same characteristics that make someone an exceptional prosthetist/orthotist make them an excellent faculty member."

O&P is a small yet growing profession in the United States. The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) and Board of Certification/Accreditation (BOC) currently report a combined approximate 7,600 certified practitioners; however, some of them may hold duplicate certifications from both boards. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in 2016 there are approximately 8,000 jobs for O&P practitioners, and data from the 2015 Dobson and DaVanzo workforce projection report indicates that the demand for O&P practitioners, fitters, and technicians is not diminishing. The demand for O&P service is projected to grow over the next several years with the baby boomers and the rise in diabetes and stroke—populations more likely to need some type of O&P intervention.

Need for O&P Programs and Faculty

Due to the media exposure and advances in prosthetics, many young professionals have been mesmerized and lured into the field of O&P. Their motivation is not only to work with the new high-tech devices and components but also to improve the quality of lives of others. Today's students are engaged and want to make a difference in the world. They are eager to learn and have goals and aspirations to impact patient care. Bob Maguire, CP, CFo, faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, states that the university's incoming students are proactive and want to interact in community service and research. Chad Duncan, PhD, CPO, program director at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center, adds, "one of the best and most rewarding things about teaching O&P students is when you meet a graduate at a conference and hear about their success, which is awesome."

There are 12 active NCOPE-accredited programs that offer a master's degree with emphasis in O&P in the United States. This is strikingly low compared with other allied healthcare professions. There are more than 674 nurse practitioner schools and approximately 252 physical therapy programs across the country. However, the need for new O&P practitioners persists, as not only is there a need for services but the Dobson and Davanzo workforce projection report estimates that over the next ten years the rate of professionals retiring will surpass the number of master's level graduates. Thus, there is a corresponding need for master's level programs and the educators to support them. It is important for members of the O&P profession to encourage other practicing professionals to teach in master's level programs as graduation rates depend on the availability of O&P educators.

Practitioners who want to continue to make an impact on the profession should consider becoming an educator to teach tomorrow's leaders. As described by Susan Kapp, MEd, CPO, FAAOP, faculty at the University of Washington's O&P master's program, "the ideal candidate should have good organization skills, since a well-organized course is much better received by students. Additionally, the potential candidate should be flexible, very much like [what] is required in clinical practice."

How to Get Involved as an Educator

"There are many ways to give back to the O&P community by either teaching full time or as an adjunct faculty," says Beattie. "O&P is the best profession in the world. Being in education is a vital aspect of it. Becoming an educator allows you to make a difference not only with one's own patients, but with every patient seen by every student you have taught."

Academic programs' faculty appreciate having a practicing clinician assist during labs. The hands-on labs are long and demanding yet are a critical time for future practitioners to develop hand skills and to understand technical concepts. The availability of an adjunct faculty during lab is a tremendous support to a full-time faculty member. Teaching in O&P is not for the faint of heart; it is as demanding as clinical practice, although teaching schedules may be a bit more forgiving than clinic schedules. Networking and connecting with local clinical practices are beneficial to the student and faculty member. Teaching provides the opportunity to collaborate with other healthcare educators and professionals. It allows you to mentor students and receive mentorship in teaching and reaching your career goals.

According to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) 2017 standards, the minimum requirement for teaching faculty is a bachelor's degree and credentials or licensure for the content/subject area taught. However, most university programs at the master's level may prefer the candidate to have a master's or doctoral degree to become faculty. Faculty may receive benefits to continue their education toward a terminal degree. In describing the ideal faculty candidate, Duncan says, "Ideally I like to see people who have practiced at least five years and have presented at various venues. From a characteristic standpoint I look for…the candidate being a team player, having expert communication skills, strong work ethic, passion for teaching students, excellent listening skills, high emotional intelligence, and organizational skills."

With the increasing demand for O&P professionals, practitioners should take into consideration the value of becoming an educator. Aside from a faculty role, current practitioners who live near a school might serve as guest lecturers in the classroom or participate in assisting students in clinically based research. Practitioners can also play a role in the education process by accepting current students to observe and shadow at local clinics.

Benefits

For practitioners who desire to pursue a full-time faculty role, there are several benefits that may make the transition a desirable move. One of these is the ability to create a schedule compatible with children's school schedules and the option to have summers off from teaching. Additionally, tuition benefits for the educator and his or her immediate family can help if the practitioner is seeking an advanced degree as she or he can learn as well as teach. Other advantages include exposure to and participation in research; keeping current with patient care in clinical practice settings or with patient models with mock evaluations, castings and fittings; interdisciplinary collaboration; knowledge of the latest technological advances; and personal satisfaction of educating the next generation of O&P clinicians.

Educating the future leaders in O&P takes an all-hands-on-deck approach to enable professionals to look forward to the continued growth the O&P field. If you are a practitioner who is interested in promoting the successful growth of the O&P profession through teaching, contact the closest O&P master's program to find out how you may be able to get involved. For a list of the accredited O&P master's programs and contacts, visit http://resident.ncope.org/prostudents/schools. 

Sara L. Peterson, PhD, CPO, FAAOP, is the director and an instructor in the O&P master's program at the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at speterson@pitt.edu.

Taavy A. Miller, MSPO, CPO, is a research scientist and clinician at Hanger Clinic and a former instructor at St. Petersburg College and University of Pittsburgh O&P programs. She can be reached at tamiller@hanger.com.