O&P Technician Education: Death by Neglect
September 2020 Issue
It is with a heavy heart that I share that the Orthotic & Prosthetic Technologies program at Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) has suspended the admission of new students. In July, the faculty, of which I have been a member for ten years, were given two months to develop options to prevent the elimination of the program and a narrow framework within which to find them. It appears it will be the demise of another technical program due to lack of support by the profession these future technicians would have served. It breaks my heart to see another technical program shutter its doors. Baker Community College succumbed to the same fate in 2018. Not a word was heard from this profession—no support, nothing, deafening silence. I suspect it will be the same for us.
Why is this profession so neglectful of its technical programs? Who are the O&P master's program graduates going to hire when they want to start their own practices? Who are the central fabs going to hire? Will the practitioner of the future be beholden to outside fabricators for every device? If this profession continues to neglect its technical programs, then yes, they will be. Business owners will have to rely on someone outside their businesses who will control turnaround times and quality and eat into profits. I have been in this profession for almost 40 years, and I am astonished that technicians are so underappreciated.
How many of you are looking for technicians right now and having a hard time finding qualified candidates? Any candidates? How many practitioners have the technical competencies to train someone with no experience, spending the time, money, and resources, to then have them walk away because they are not dedicated to the profession, or because your competitor hired away your efforts? Are current students in practitioner education programs going to have that level of technical expertise? Probably not. One of the many benefits of an O&P technical program graduate is a proven dedication to this profession by spending the time, money, and effort to get a technical education.
Technical education has not been supported by the majority in this profession. (Exceptions include Coyote Design and Tamarack Habilitation Technologies, who have been supporters of OSUIT over the years.) The push to strengthen practitioner programs and ignore the struggle of the technical programs is a shame on this profession. I have worked on multiple sides of this issue, as a technician, practitioner, business owner, and an educator. I am not blind or naïve to the O&P profession's dismissive view and underappreciation of technicians. I have experienced it, I have seen it, I have heard it, and it's a damned shame. For the sake and future of O&P, to keep it vibrant and healthy, stop ignoring the value of technical education, and start supporting those programs that remain before all their doors are shuttered.
Michael P. Madden, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, is a faculty member in the OSUIT O&P Technologies program.