Deepening Professional Understanding through Volunteerism
July 2014 Issue
Four of my classmates from Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC), Chicago, Illinois, and I recently volunteered at Advanced O&P Solutions, Hickory Hills, Illinois, with the Range of Motion Project (ROMP). We sorted, cataloged, and packaged approximately 900 donated O&P components for shipment to the ROMP clinic in Guatemala. ROMP aims to provide high-quality O&P care to those who need it, regardless of their socioeconomic situation, and to do so in a way that communities can sustain the effort without external aid. A mere five hours of our time, combined with our desire to enable patient care abroad, has made ROMP's vision that much closer to reality. (Author's note: For more information about ROMP, visit www.rompglobal.org)
As we sorted through the mountain of components, I realized that we were not just sifting through a pile of devices and liners, but that these items would surely effect change in others' lives. The feet we sized and cataloged will help bear the weight of patients returning to their jobs, allowing them to once again support their families. The knees we tested and organized will allow patients to ambulate, helping them be more active in their communities. The liners we sorted and inventoried will increase the comfort of wearing prostheses, facilitating the transition from not using a device to wearing a prosthesis full-time.
Being exposed to this spectrum of components was beneficial to my understanding of the enormous variety that exists in our field. Components may differ by only small, simple features, but these may be the details that encourage a patient to use a device. While in school, students are exposed to only a fraction of the available component options. Immersing yourself in a veritable "mash-up" of componentry during such a volunteer experience can increase a practitioner's versatility. Knowing how ten varieties of knees operate, versus three varieties of knees, gives you the ability to select the most appropriate component more accurately. Stepping outside of the classroom and sifting through a pile of components gave me the chance to do just that: expand my knowledge to become a better future practitioner.
O&P is a complex profession, shaped and formed by an increasing number of factors. Economics, politics, and technological advancements change the way we practice and administer care. Confining yourself to the environments of the classroom and the clinic does not present a complete picture. Not only did we contribute to ROMP's efforts, but we also caught a glimpse of the sheer amount of components that are left unused in the United States. Countless donated items were almost brand new but could not be used by another patient due to ethical and legal issues. If not for the donation effort, these parts would be wasted. Considering how difficult it can be to acquire prostheses even if you have insurance coverage, it was eye-opening to witness the dead-weight loss of our current system. Volunteering helped me realize that to solve the problems in our industry we must push ourselves into new environments to fully understand the intricacies of our profession. Simply shadowing or observing would never have challenged my knowledge of the profession as volunteering did.
Volunteer experiences like this remind students of why we chose this career path: to help others achieve their goals and lead better lives. We should not forget what lies ahead as we make our way toward graduation.
Nina Bondre is a master's degree student at NUPOC. She is the president of the O&P student society there and has volunteered abroad with ROMP during her undergraduate career.