Five Questions for Karen Burns, RTPO

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Karen Burns used her skill in sewing Levi's® jeans to secure her first job in the O&P profession. "I answered a help wanted ad and needed to know industrial-strength sewing and leather tooling," she says. Her skill in tooling came courtesy of her high school shop class. Fascinated by O&P fabrication, Burns worked for two years studying O&P terminology and "learning how to build everything," before obtaining her RTPO certification. She credits her husband John, a former RTPO at Bryco Fabrications, Columbia, Missouri, with teaching her the ins and outs of O&P fabrication and working with various materials. Twenty-two years later, Burns is the fabrication supervisor for Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics in Independence, Missouri. "We make custom prosthetics and orthotics-arms, myoelectics, work hands, AK, BK, Symes, a full range of KAFOs, AFOs, foot inserts, shoe work, metal bracing, hips-just about everything." In her off time, Burns enjoys hunting, fishing, working on her truck and spending time with her ten grandchildren.

1. What has motivated you in your professional pursuits?

I am motivated to learn everything possible about this business. I don't just want to know how things work and why, I want to know how can I make them better.

2. What are your personal and/or professional goals?

I want to be able to develop a new product-something that's easy for patients to put on and take off. I've long thought about ways to make a quick release for shoes worn with braces so it's easier to change into different shoes.

3. Describe your approach to patient care. What are your top priorities/goals when working with a patient?

Listening to patients-when they tell me what is wrong, and when they tell me what they like. If possible, I give them a choice of colors and types of products. People like to look good in what they wear, so we make our products look as flawless as possible. We're always looking to make the next thing better than the last and with a faster turnaround.

4. What emerging trends or exciting advances do you see?

A number of things: nanotechnology; thin, strong fibers; myoelectrics on metal bracing; and power KAFOs for people who cannot walk or stand. In the future, I see more advanced easy-to-use products that are stronger and lighter in weight.

5. What advice would you give to someone just entering the O&P profession or starting his or her own business?

Remember that everything you make needs to be as good or better than you would want it if it were made for yourself or for one of your family members. Write things down and learn from everyone. Listen to the patients. They can tell you a lot, if you just take the time.