Five Questions for Robert L. Rhodes, MPA, CO

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Robert L. Rhodes wasn't born an O&P man. It took the lure of extra cash and coaxing by a man who would become his mentor to push Rhodes into the business. While working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) after getting out of the Air Force, Rhodes took a job in the VA's orthopedic unit. Soon after, he was studying O&P at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, where he met Jim Russ, CO, then the director of orthotic education at the university's medical school. "I learned more from [Russ] than from any other person in my life," Rhodes said. "He exemplifies what it means to be a mentor."

After a transient decade spent moving from job to job, Rhodes landed at Shelby State College, Memphis, Tennessee, where he took a position as the director of rehabilitation technologies. After six years there, Rhodes started work at the University of Michigan Orthotics-Prosthetics Center (UMOPC), Ann Arbor. He retired in 2004 with plans on teaching philosophy part time, but he ultimately took on the role of director of the O&P program at Eastern Michigan University.

1. Who motivated you in your life and/or professional pursuits?

Jim Russ had this procedure of interviewing everyone who was new to Northwestern. I remember him asking me if I had any plans to make O&P a career. When I said no, his response was, "If I can show you how this field can be interesting and challenging, would you consider staying...?" I said that I would be a fool not to consider it, but that I didn't think he had a chance [to make it interesting].

2. What emerging trends or exciting advances do you see for your field?

As an educator, the most exciting development is the application of the principles of evidence-based practice. This change in pedagogical approach is challenging for instructors as well as for students, but it presents the information so that the student is able to approach and use that information in the same ways that it would be used in actual practice.

3. What do you see in the future for O&P/rehab?

I see growth in both numbers and stature for the profession. The Academy meeting this year in San Francisco was an excellent example of both where we have come and where we are going. I would like to see orthotists and prosthetists be able to write their own prescriptions and to be able to charge for their time, as appropriate. I also would like to see separate master's degrees for orthotics and prosthetics, and I would like to see O&P consults done routinely, not as a last resort.

4. Please describe your approach to patient care. What are your top priorities/goals when working with a patient?

My approach to patient care is to apply all the knowledge at my disposal toward designing and producing the best orthotic system while maintaining compassion and understanding for my patient.

5. Do you have an unusual or exceptional story you would like to tell?

We didn't have fitting rooms at the VA, so patients were taken back to the lab and seated in a chair at our "bench." One afternoon I was fitting an old veteran with elastic stockings when he looked up and saw a BK leg sitting on a co-worker's bench, ready for delivery the next day. "Y'know," he said, "I've heard about them artificial legs all my life, but I never thought about somebody havin' to have an artificial shoe!"