Recipe for a Master’s Program from Scratch

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By Joshua B. Utay, MEd, CPO

Part 3 in our exclusive coverage of the development of the master of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

People and Stuff

O&P specializes in the precarious intersection of people and "stuff"-prosthetic limbs and orthotic devices. We know how to apply this stuff to people's bodies for therapeutic benefit. O&P education teaches us about the body, the devices, and how to fit them together successfully. A central theme in assembling an educational program is accumulation of sufficient volumes and diversity of materials and components that comprise the stuff from which students will learn.

As technology permeates daily practice, the cost of components and rate of change increase. To provide a contemporary learning environment without exhausting resources on technology that may soon be obsolete, a new system of student access to technology has evolved. Manufacturers have assembled a series of collections of current-generation microprocessorcontrolled knees, carbon-fiber AFOs, high-activity feet, or stance-control joints, and they showcase them to learners at various schools. Students have access to the latest technology without the schools even needing to find the storage space!

Learning from Others

The challenges of starting a new educational program extend beyond the orchestration of student exposure to new technology. I notice that administrative tasks are mounting and seem to multiple on a weekly, if not daily basis.

The Baylor O&P master's program is offering something novel to our students and to the profession, and we have the responsibility to ensure our students receive an education that is equal in quality and overall experience as that offered by existing programs. As a new program, we anticipated, and have benefitted from, feedback from the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE). This guidance and feedback will allow Baylor O&P student experiences to be consistent with all other accredited O&P programs. NCOPE, after all, develops, applies, and assures standards for O&P education through accreditation and approval, and its governing board includes ABC-certified orthotists and prosthetists, O&P educators, curriculum specialists, and academic administrators.

Like every program, we want ours to be distinct, noble, and world-class. The result is shaping up to be a polished, organic compilation of detailed educational schema reflecting the influence of a growing mentorship.

Sharing Knowledge

As a faculty member at a medical school, I have been impressed by the variety and types of people who request to learn more about O&P. For instance, I have had the privilege of addressing groups of medical students and medical residents covering O&P concepts relevant to their practices. I approached preparations for these lectures with apprehension about how much detail these possible future prescribers of O&P care would need. Would I be able to answer their intense questions? Would they benefit from my words?

I found that offering a simple, conventional approach is welcomed and appreciated. I was greeted by recipients who were gracious and grateful for honest, direct input. Making ourselves approachable to these learners will surely benefit our professional standing. Using this approach to communicate with these future physicians may provide a model for our students later as they enter the profession, as well as a reminder to us for how we should communicate with our students today.

Experienced Clinicians Needed

While our primary responsibilities are to the students, the program, and the institution, we represent our profession to other healthcare communities and members of the general public as well.

In addition to calls from potential students, in my experience, O&P education programs are also regularly contacted by people seeking information about research opportunities and involvement in nonprofit or humanitarian endeavors. As a result, we have become familiar with many efforts related to O&P from around the country and at various stages of development. There are numerous efforts under way that combine ingenuity, humanitarianism, and substantial funding to provide O&P services to populations in underserved or developing communities not formally affiliated with orthotists or prosthetists. These teams often lack experienced practitioners schooled in fashioning and applying custom, durable interfaces for lasting orthopedic appliances and prosthetic devices, especially for recipients with limited access to follow-up care.

Progress in the efforts to develop, fit, and/or deliver O&P devices can be maximized by incorporating trained clinicians, and the O&P profession would benefit by having additional skilled clinicians to be involved in these endeavors.

Choosing Our First Cohort

Armed with this perspective, we proceed to consider which applicants to our program we are most eager to interview. Who among our applicant pool has grand foresight and appreciation of his or her potential to contribute foundational knowledge-about both people and stuff-to anchor the inter-professional collaborations needed to address the challenges of modern and future patient care and industry mobility?

Joshua B. Utay, MEd, CPO, is an instructor and assistant director of the master of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. He can be reached at