Raising the Bar for O&P Educators

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By Thomas Karolewski, CP, FAAOP

The article "Raising the Bar in Education and Professional Standards" in the September 2019 issue of The O&P EDGE touched on some great points, including the importance of elevating the profession's entry-level educational standards. The article did not talk about what, in my opinion, is an area that can be improved in the profession: The lack of qualified faculty in the O&P master's programs.

While the substance of the O&P master's degree curriculum evolved from the days of the technical program where fabrication was the focus toward more clinical and research-based education, clinicians still debate the need for more fabrication training, device-driven content, or problem-solving and research. I'm not going to argue for a specific curriculum; rather, as an educator, my argument is about its delivery.

As someone who has formal training in education at undergraduate-, graduate-, and doctoral-levels, and served on the faculty at Northwestern University for 20 years, I dream of higher standards for faculty. The O&P profession wants to spotlight the elevation of the curriculum for clinicians, yet the hiring standards for faculty continue to linger from years past.

The National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) standards require a faculty member to have a bachelor's degree in the discipline they lecture. However, it seems inappropriate for someone to teach above their own education level. I am unaware of any university where the practice of teaching up is permitted in a major field of study. 

I would like to see this change if O&P education is to be taken seriously within and outside of the profession. O&P schools should require faculty to have either an educational background or pursue formal training in education to enhance the delivery of the material that took years to develop. Each program should encourage and support faculty to pursue a terminal degree with tuition benefits to offset educational costs.

Formal training in education would teach the faculty member about learning theories and how to address learning disabilities, generational differences, diversity, and inclusion practices, and metrics such as assessment auditing to better understand outcome measures.

Hiring individuals with little or no education experience coupled with little clinical experience will prove to be detrimental to the profession as time progresses. Like O&P, teaching is considered an art and a science, and it should not be underestimated. Current hiring practices could be considered an insult to the trained educators that were my mentors. Hiring standards should be re-evaluated and changed to match the recent curriculum change.

Years ago, while serving as director of prosthetics education at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center, Mark Edwards, CP, developed a presentation titled "What Future Educators Look Like" that outlined some pertinent points O&P faculty should have:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Formal education training
  • Clinical experience
  • A desire for research
  • A willingness to pursue faculty development

All of these still hold true today and are as important as ever.

"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."—Carl Jung

Thomas Karolewski, CP, FAAOP, has been an educator for 40 years.