Wendy Beattie: Engineer Finds True Calling

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By Miki Fairley

The aerospace industry's loss has been the orthotic and prosthetic profession's gain.

Beattie has been described as going beyond the call of duty in caring for her patients and helping them gain a high quality of life.
Beattie has been described as going beyond the call of duty in caring for her patients and helping them gain a high quality of life.

Wendy Beattie, CPO, FAAOP , who steps up to the plate as incoming president of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (the Academy) this month, was fascinated as a youngster with the excitement of space travel.

"One of my earliest memories was when the astronauts landed on the moon," she recalls. "I knew then that was what I wanted to do-be in the space program."

That dream led Beattie to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University. Things changed, however, the summer after her junior year, when she got a summer internship with a defense contractor. "The downside of defense contracting is that you are making things you hope will never be used."

A design project she completed for one of her mechanical engineering classes during her senior year in college introduced her to the field of orthotics and prosthetics and gave her a renewed sense of professional purpose. "One of my favorite professors was my biomechanics professor, who had ties with the Newington Orthotic and Prosthetic Systems [at Children's Hospital Center, Newington, Connecticut], and I toured the prosthetics department," she says. "For my project, I designed a wheelchair seat for children with severe deformities." The experience appears to have sparked a passion that continues to this day.

After graduating from Yale with a mechanical engineering degree, Beattie began applying for jobs as an O&P technician. Her radical change in career goals was met by skepticism from potential employers. "The two people who hired me-who really brought me into the field-were Craig Boyles, CO, and Minoo DeSio, CP."

Beattie later obtained a certificate in prosthetics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and her orthotics certificate from Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois.

Beattie admiringly remembers her prosthetic and orthotic residency mentors Dick McCumber, CP, and Tom DiBello, CO, FAAOP, who, she says, helped her acquire a more in-depth knowledge of, and appreciation for, her chosen field.

"Now I'm delighted to see my products used on a daily basis and making a positive difference in people's lives," she says. "It gives me such a feeling of gratification when I fit someone with an orthosis and prosthesis and they say, Wow! This is great!'?"

As Beattie describes it on opcareers.org, an informational website maintained by the Academy, "I found a field where all of my areas of interest intersected-working with my hands, problem-solving, working directly with people, and being able to truly make a difference with my skills. People thought I was crazy, but I have never regretted my decision and still love what I do."

Beattie has been with Becker Orthopedic, based in Troy, Michigan, for 19 years. She is currently director of clinical education for Becker in Waterford, Michigan, and is the company's residency director.

Passion Drives Involvement

Beattie's passion for prosthetics and orthotics has fueled her involvement with the field's national organizations, notably the Academy, although she also has served the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA) in various ways.

Visiting historic Fort San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the Beattie family: (from left) husband Kim; children Ross, 18; Siena, 10; Ethan, 11; and Wendy.
Visiting historic Fort San Felipe del Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is the Beattie family: (from left) husband Kim; children Ross, 18; Siena, 10; Ethan, 11; and Wendy.

Beattie has served on and chaired several Academy committees, including the Professional Issues Council, and has been a member of the Academy Board for the last seven years. She began as chair of the Publications Committee. "I had been in a meeting," she recalls with a laugh, "and corrected an error in our mission statement. I jokingly said I had been an English major in college-and they believed me-and so I ended up chairing the Publications Committee!" Beattie chaired the Joint Committee on O&P Awareness, comprising representatives from major O&P organizations to raise the profile of the profession as a career choice and increase enrollment in the O&P schools. Her colleagues note her quick wit and understanding, along with her leadership talents and ability to quickly get to the heart of a problem, identify possible solutions, and start things moving in a positive direction.

As president, what would Beattie like to see the Academy accomplish? "In the past, the Academy had a strong presidency, and the Academy's direction would be dictated by the president," she says. "But we've moved past that and have plotted a course that's more than a year long. The president is not only a leader, but also a facilitator to keep things moving in the same direction.

"We're working toward increasing the educational level-not only in requirements to enter the profession, but also in continuing education, including courses on advances in design and processes, biomechanics, and material processes, along with more instructional courses for new practitioners. We want to provide educational opportunities to meet everyone's needs."

Beattie notes the improved communication and closer relationships between the O&P organizations; she wants to keep that moving forward. Each organization brings a different approach and area of experience to the table, she points out. "I'd rather bring those threads together...than help them unravel." She would like to see more practitioners become Academy members. "Being a member of your professional organization is part of what makes you a professional."

Beattie also believes in giving back to the profession of which she is a part. About 18 years ago, she started a foundation called Special Opportunities for Advanced Rehabilitation (SOAR), a nonprofit 501(3)(c) charity that provides fitness and athletic activities for persons with disabilities.

O&P: Where Is It Going?

Where does she see the O&P profession heading? "The big changes in technology are a challenge for practitioners," she says. "It's not all about the technology itself, but also about how it works for the patient. We have a lot to learn." Commenting on the ratio of practitioners to patients, Beattie says, "I think we will be doing more custom work and less work that doesn't require as much clinical skill."

However, she doesn't see any improvement in the reimbursement climate. "When you see the huge profits HMOs are making at the expense of patients and providers, it's sickening. 'Reimbursement' basically means 'being paid for expenses.' I don't want to be 'reimbursed' for my costs-I want to be paid for the services I provide."

Beattie pointed out the stratospheric bonuses paid to HMO chief executives while "they are nickel-and-diming our profession. It's very difficult to provide high-quality O&P care for what these HMOs are contracting out for."

Advice for Others

For those just entering the profession or starting their own practice, Beattie offers this advice: "Find someone you can learn from and a place where you can grow professionally," she says. "If you stop growing, find a new place to grow."

Offering a residency program at your company is another great opportunity, she adds. "Every resident comes from a different background. I've learned so much from them about topics related to O&P."

Beattie even has advice for practitioners who find themselves in a rut. "Find colleagues whose work you admire, and if you can, go spend a few days with them," she advises. "You'll find that their different approaches and perspectives will give you new fire."

However, it's obvious in talking with Beattie that she doesn't need new fire-the old fire has never gone out.

Miki Fairley is a contributing editor for  The O&P EDGE and a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be contacted via e-mail at  miki@opedge.com.