Inaccuracies in O&P Education Program Comparisons
August 2021 Issue
In May 2021, The O&P EDGE published "A Comparative Study of the 2020 Entrance Requirements for O&P Master's Programs," which may have resulted in misguided impressions of the educational entry options to the field of orthotics and prosthetics. Attentive readers are likely to have recognized that the methods for collecting data only included a review of program institution websites, with neither verification nor communication with the respective education programs. Critical readers are likely to have recognized that these research methods are not appropriate for publishing the resulting data as fact. For the untrained eye, however, this information may seem credible and lead to false assumptions about P&O education.
Despite the attempt at making the decision process easier for prospective students, the article may do more harm than good. The most glaring of errors in the article are those of tuition and fees in Figure 1. Most of the programs have indicated that their total cost is misrepresented. The author indicated an $87,540 difference in the amounts, but the low-end value is clearly undershot, and the high-end represents a program whose total cost includes undergraduate academic credits. In addition, some institutions provide opportunities for out-of-state students to pay in-state tuition, and some programs operate in partnership or consortium with a secondary institution, both of which can augment cost.
Errors exist for program length as well. The shortest program is 16 months, and it requires clarification that the longest programs include the extra timing of undergraduate-level education or residency experience within the curriculum.
At least one-third of programs have identified inaccuracies in the Additional Requirements of Figure 3, and cited concerns of the misleading nature of Figure 4 (Programs Based on Student Desires). Concerning the latter, the Student Preferences are either overly subjective with no clear definitions or sow confusion in their vagueness. With research methods that do not take the extra steps to verify accuracy or ensure proper comparisons, an article such as this risks the next generation of students applying to or entering into programs with incorrect expectations, or it may deter would-be applicants altogether.
Comparing graduate degree options can be challenging since not all institutions grant the same designation of a Master of Science in Orthotics & Prosthetics (MSOP), rather a Master of Prosthetics & Orthotics (MPO) degree or a stand-alone master's degree in some instances. Responsible applicants investing in an O&P career would do best directly contacting the programs in which they are interested to learn about these finer details. Doing so would highlight the fact that the use of even the correct program cost or program length as a singular point of comparison lacks important context.
Aside from programs themselves being important contributors to the distribution of accurate information on graduate education options, comparison attempts should utilize such sources as the Orthotics & Prosthetics Centralized Application Service (OPCAS), the National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), among others.
Author's note: This response was developed with input from program directors from all CAAHEP-accredited O&P master's degree programs.
Scott Bretl, CPO, is the director of the Prosthetics & Orthotics Master's Program at Alabama State University.
Editor's note: The article referenced is a condensed version of a manuscript that was fact-checked and approved as a master's degree capstone project for the author's MSOP degree, which included constraints in scope and methodology, such as excluding any non-master's degree-level courses, that may have led to discrepancies.