Pioneer MSPO Class Looks Forward to the Future

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Pictured on a vintage locomotive-a historical reminder of the many engineering feats and contributions to the world by Georgia Tech-are the members of the first MSPO graduating class and their instructors. Front row, from left are: Benjamin Lucas; Alejandro Aviles; and Christopher Hovorka, CPO, program clinical director. Back row, from left are Robert Kistenberg, CPO, FAAOP, clinical director of prosthetics; Mark Holowka; Kristin Andrews; and David Fritz.
Pictured on a vintage locomotive-a historical reminder of the many engineering feats and contributions to the world by Georgia Tech-are the members of the first MSPO graduating class and their instructors. Front row, from left are: Benjamin Lucas; Alejandro Aviles; and Christopher Hovorka, CPO, program clinical director. Back row, from left are Robert Kistenberg, CPO, FAAOP, clinical director of prosthetics; Mark Holowka; Kristin Andrews; and David Fritz.

Blazing a trail in the orthotics and prosthetics profession is the first entry-level masters program graduating class. These five students from the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, come from diverse backgrounds and are excited to enter the O&P field as they begin their NCOPE [National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education]-accredited residencies. What brought them to be part of this pioneer endeavor? What are their plans for the future?

Here are profiles from four of the students (Alejandro Aviles wasn't able to respond by press time):

Mark Holowka

Mark Holowka points out that, although many persons thought the class would be engineer- and research-oriented, the reality is quite the opposite: "We're all far more interested in the clinical, patient-care side and are very, very committed to the patients." The program includes a "clinical practicum" in which the P&O students learn and work alongside other healthcare professionals, learning about their perspectives and approaches to care, he notes. "The doctors and other healthcare professionals and medical students explained why they followed certain treatment protocols and how they approach various aspects of patient care." The P&O students learned some aspects of other healthcare disciplines, such as orthopedic, cardiovascular, and podiatric, among others. "Georgia Tech is really trying to use the medical school model-how to work with patients and other healthcare professionals," says Holowka. "It was also great to work with medical students.

"It was a great educational experience for us, and also for doctors in Atlanta," Holowka continues. "Many of them didn't know much about P&O and were excited to find out we are the first masters program." Although the focus of the program is more clinical, Holowka notes the importance of research. The students were very surprised of the lack of truly scientific research in the field, he says. "Outcomes are huge with insurance companies-they want numbers, data, not just patients saying they feel better."

Holowka notes there is a large need for independent research at universities, not just manufacturers doing their own research. A problem he points out is that "there is not much infrastructure for independent research; universities are not getting much grant money for O&P at this time."

Members of the first MSPO graduating class are front row, from left: David Fritz and Mark Holowka; (back row, from left) Alejandro Aviles, Kristin Andrews, and Benjamin Lucas.
Members of the first MSPO graduating class are front row, from left: David Fritz and Mark Holowka; (back row, from left) Alejandro Aviles, Kristin Andrews, and Benjamin Lucas.

The five students came from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds, Holowka notes, and so they learned from each other as well as from instructors. The small group became close-knit and helped one another.

What brought Holowka to the O&P field after concentrating on biochemistry as an undergraduate? He is interested in the medical field, wants to work with his hands as well as his mind, and wants to help others. Pioneering in healthcare education runs in his family: his sister graduated from the first doctorate-level (DTP) program in physical therapy, which was begun at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska.

Holowka appreciates the foundation he and his fellow students have received at Georgia Tech. "We weren't taught to just be concerned about pass or fail or to have letters after our name, but rather to question things and look at the field scientifically while being very committed to good patient care. And no one can take away a person's education." He notes that doctors often don't understand the credentialing in the field, but they do understand levels required for bachelors and masters degrees. "Doctors want the best care for their patients, but it takes time to understand the aspects of credentialing in O&P, and they don't always have that time."

Holowka begins his residency at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Madison.  His future goals include humanitarian work and teaching. He also would like to get involved in the field's political aspects, advocating for education, he added.

David Fritz

David Fritz had been working in big corporate settings for about six years when he heard about the MSPO program. "Around that time I was becoming more and more aware that my current work rarely made a significant personal impact on anyone-it was time for a change," he says. Fritz had earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, "so I was already aware of the school's high standards.

"The opportunity to get an advanced degree in healthcare was too good to pass up," he continues. "We can only benefit by advancing the overall status of education in the field. Cooperation and mutual respect among our fellow healthcare provider in physical and occupational therapy and medicine will continue to improve as advanced degrees proliferate in P&O."

Fritz , who begins his orthotic residency at Shriners Hospital in Tampa, Florida, in June, adds, "I think I speak for all of the students in thanking the Atlanta-area P&O facilities for their extraordinary contributions to our education over the past two years."

Kristin Andrews

Kristin Andrews was introduced to the P&O profession through a college recruiter who used a prosthesis as an example of what a biomedical engineer might design. "While completing my biomedical engineering degree as Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, I realized that I wanted both design and patient involvement," says Andrews. "After an extensive career search, I became interested in the field of O&P because it blends engineering problem-solving skills with direct patient care."

Andrews spend a summer working as a technician before deciding to pursue a postgraduate program. "I felt that a masters degree would provide an excellent educational background for clinical practice as well as provide a broader range of career opportunities," she explains. Andrews plans to complete residencies in both orthotics and prosthetics; she begins her orthotic residency at the University of Michigan in August.

Ben Lucas

Ben Lucas earned a bachelors degree in biomedical engineering from Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. Although he had wanted to go to medical school, he began work toward a masters degree in biomedical engineering, doing ergonomic and back pain studies at Ohio State University. While at Ohio State, he took course for physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) students in prosthetics and orthotics. "That's where I found out about the P&O profession," he explains. "From there I started looking into how to get certified, and I found out more about the field."

He continues, "I liked the flexibility of the field-how it was part of healthcare, yet still had a lot of hands-on applications that could combine medical with my engineering background." In 2000, Lucas saw the posting on the OANDP-L listserve by Mark Geil, PhD, when Geil was inquiring about interest in a masters degree program in O&P. "In 2001, I postponed grad school and moved to Atlanta for a year and a half before school started. I wanted to pursue the masters degree because I had already started a graduate degree and wanted to finish, and I also felt it would be easier to attain higher degrees in the future, if I so desire."

Lucas begins his orthotic residency at Gillette Children's Hospital, St. Paul, Minnesota, in July. "After that, really a lot depends on circumstances and what opportunities pop up, but I plan on completing both my orthotic and prosthetic training.

"I also have become very interested in education and would like to be involved in that aspect at one point in my career," Lucas continues. "Working in rural communities or overseas is another area that I would like to pursue. Other than that, I really just want to get out there, and in the next couple of years, see where things take me."

He adds, ""The masters degree, along with my more than a year of technical training, has given me the foundation to accomplish my goals. Now I look forward to applying everything that I have learned and will continue to have to work hard to give the best possible care that I can to my patients."