New Beginnings

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By Matthew Scoggin

It is always interesting to be the first to start something new. You get to establish precedents and create new relationships. In my case, I get the opportunity to be among the first to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, master of science in prosthetics and orthotics program. As exciting as it sounds, giving a new program a strong base for the future has been challenging.

Culture Shock

Here I am (right) working during fabrication class. As you can see, our fabrication lab didn't stay pristine for very long!

Moving from small-town North Carolina to Pittsburgh was quite a change for me. I have braved more cold than I ever thought possible and more snow than I have ever seen. Like me with the weather, the University of Pittsburgh O&P program has gone through similar adjustments during its inaugural year. The master's program was given lab space in Bakery Square-formerly a Nabisco factory-a repurposed multiuse center located one mile from the main campus. The Marriott, gym, and restaurants had yet to move in, so we had the entire building to ourselves. Unfortunately, construction was not scheduled to be finished until January. So after attending classes in the fall, I was anxious to leave for Christmas with the anticipation of returning to a finished and pristine lab.

Assembly Required

I imagined clean tool sets, spotless plaster and laminating-room floors, and no dust. Returning from break in January, I was ready to get my hands dirty with plaster. Instead, my hands were dirty and sore from assembling band saws and treatment tables. The lab construction and equipment deliveries had fallen slightly behind, and while it wasn't the initiation to fabrication I was expecting, I was glad to exchange a few lectures for some light manual labor. Once the lab was finished, cast-modification days set in, and I sometimes found myself covered in white dust, looking as if I had spent the day baking cookies for Nabisco instead of doing my work.

Switching Gears

The University of Pittsburgh set up its program so that one discipline is not the focus. Switching back and forth from prosthetics to orthotics every other day may seem awkward, but I have enjoyed it. The combination breaks up the week and seems to better represent the daily experience of a certified practitioner. Among other courses, the spring semester consisted of Lower-Limb Orthotics I, Transtibial Prosthetics, and my first clinical rotation. Both classes came with a surplus of fabrication work. Some was self-induced, due to my lack of metal-bending skills, but most of the work grew out of our instructors' desire to create a strong foundation for our hand skills. My clinical rotation was great, and I am thankful that the Pittsburgh O&P community has accepted the challenge of being a part of my education.

The highlight of the semester was attending my first American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (the Academy) Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. It was invaluable to make connections with such a vibrant community of practitioners, educational leaders, and product engineers.

Another "First"

Once summer arrived, I felt much more at home with high temperatures and the terribly wonderful humidity, but after 22 years of attending school from August to May, full-time summer school was another first. I guess I am going to have to acclimate myself to work during the summer months and disassociate June and July with beaches, mundane summer jobs, road trips, and too much free time. The summer session included a great deal of work in a short amount of time. My classes consisted of Spinal Orthotics, Lower-Extremity Orthotics II, Transfemoral Prosthetics, and my second clinical rotation. Along with regularly scheduled lectures, each class had presentations from different community experts and national companies including Becker Orthopedic, Troy, Michigan; Ultraflex Systems, Pottstown, Pennsylvania; Boston Brace, Avon, Massachusetts; Orthomerica, Newport Beach, California; and DonJoy (DJO), Vista, California. Topics discussed included amputee rehabilitation, halo application, and more.

It's been a tiring first year, but I have thoroughly enjoyed my educational experience. The O&P profession is in a critical transition period where today's students can make a profound difference through research, clinical expertise, and technology. I want to thank all of the people who made this program possible through their time, energy, labor, money, and love. Your dedication has not gone unnoticed.

Matthew Scoggin is a second-year graduate student in the master of science in prosthetics and orthotics program at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He will be sharing his experiences with The O&P EDGE during his final year of graduate school.