Program Profile Series: Eastern Michigan University and Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center

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The O&P EDGE continues its series of National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)-accredited master's level O&P educational programs.

Eastern Michigan University, Master of Science in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ORPR) program


students at EMU ORPR

Students create a silicone model of a transtibial residual limb for use in teaching and examinations. Photographs courtesy of the EMU ORPR program.

The ORPR program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Ypsilanti, has increased from three students in 2003 to an anticipated 20 students in 2015. The program was initially designed as second-career training and was taught during evenings and weekends, but the curriculum demands necessitated the increase to a full-time program. Wendy Beattie, CPO, FAAOP, program director and clinical coordinator, revamped the 2014 curriculum after taking over the directorship in fall 2013, and increased the number of required credits from 47 to 59 to include more clinical experience. Beattie says that the increase in credits provides students additional experience with patients-students will also make more devices, respond to more case studies, and develop more treatment plans for patient models.

EMU's ORPR program offers what it describes as an innovative educational resource, developed by Frank Fedel, MS, an ORPR assistant professor who is working toward his doctoral degree in technology in education. Fedel created a system that captures and uploads all course lectures and corresponding content, including multiple camera angles for demonstration details, to allow students to easily review the material.


The ORPR program spans two years, including the students' two-site clinical affiliations in the summer between the first and second years. Students are permitted to choose clinical affiliations in any location, upon Beattie's approval. To earn that approval, affiliation facilities must be accredited by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) and have an experienced, certified mentor for the student. "The profession in general has been incredibly helpful to us...and I think [the affiliation sites] really enjoy having the students come there," Beattie says. The first year of the program is split between clinical and didactic work, while the second year is primarily devoted to clinical education and completion of capstone projects.

The program has three full-time and two part-time instructors. Beattie teaches the clinical affiliations course, using her clinical experience to prepare students for their internships. She coordinates the affiliations and leads the related group discussions during which students share their experiences and the various methods of dealing with patient scenarios.

To better serve the growing class size, the ORPR program will move to a new location on campus in 2015, which will also give it better access to the gait lab it shares with the exercise physiology program.

The ORPR program is considering ways to develop partnerships with the other health and human service graduate programs as part of EMU's emphasis on collaboration among its healthcare programs. "There's so much to be gained from that collaboration, because as the students enter practice, they're going to be confronted with people who have issues outside the scope of their own practice. And for them to know who to refer these patients to is really invaluable. It will make them far more well-rounded and competent as clinicians," Beattie explains.

Another aspect of the students' shared learning experience is the fabrication and use of a "prosthosis," an arm prosthesis simulator that fits over an intact limb. Each student wears his or her device for three days, manipulating the hook to perform common tasks, and completes a paper describing the experience. "I think that gives them tremendous insight and perspective [into] the benefits and limitations of what [O&P practitioners] can do," says Beattie."

students aligning a prosthesis

Students align a prosthesis for gathering kinetic data.


The 18-student class that began this fall has a wide range of educational and experiential backgrounds. "What's really fun is to watch how the students help each other, and the ones who have certain strengths take the lead in those areas," says Beattie. During their summer affiliations, which require completion of patient logs, treatment plans, and case studies, Beattie encourages the students to experience as many different O&P techniques and facilities as possible. "I tell the students it's important to find out what type of facility you want to work in, but it may be even more important to find out what kind of facility you don't want to work in," she says. "I want the students to experience as many different [methods of treatments] as they can because...we don't want to tell [them] that everything must be done this one way."

The summer is also when students begin literature reviews for their research-based or product-design capstone projects, and take an online O&P business course. Recent capstone projects have included a study comparing gait variations when walking between parallel bars, walking outside on firm ground, and walking outside on grass, which involved researching prior gait and balance studies of individuals with lower-limb amputations and able-bodied individuals; and a life cast model of a residual limb made with silicone and urethane created to provide students opportunities for realistic practice without a patient having to be present. "It is incredibly lifelike," says Beattie.

Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC), Master's in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MPO)


Prosthetics research at Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, began in 1946, with support from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); the prosthetics education program was established in 1958-the country's third such program. (The two older programs, at the University of California, Los Angeles, and New York University, New York, are no longer operating.) NUPOC's orthotics education program began in 1966. In 2010, the O&P research and clinical education arms moved into a shared space, increasing collaboration between the groups. NUPOC operates within the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, a component of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Steven Gard, PhD, is the executive director of research and education; John Michael, CPO/L, MEd, FAAOP, FISPO, is the director of education. The program welcomed the first students into the MPO program in July 2013.


The 21-month master's program can serve 48 students annually and is delivered through a blended learning format, with three of the seven theme-based sessions completed online and the remaining sessions taught on campus. The first two sessions, understanding concepts and clinical responsibilities, are online; they build students' foundational skills prior to their year spent developing clinical skills in a face-to-face teaching environment.

The final session, also completed online, is spent on reflection and synthesis as students finalize capstone research projects and learn more about professional issues and practice management. Online sessions include recorded lectures and problem-based learning exercises, as well as discussion boards and video conferencing for interaction with faculty and peers.

John Brinkmann, MA, CPO/L, FAAOP, lead prosthetics instructor, is one of five full-time professors and instructors of the 22-member MPO faculty and staff. He says that one of the program's strengths is the many opportunities students have to work with patient models with various diagnoses including traumatic and congenital limb deficiencies, stroke-related deficiencies, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injuries.

And, as part of the recent MPO curriculum development, patient assessment has received additional emphasis, says Brinkmann; students are taught to quantify the patient's psychosocial, neurologic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and functional abilities.


The online sessions, which are broken roughly into quarters, prepare students for their on-site education. For example, the clinical sciences course in the second session "requires some foundational knowledge about biomechanics and human systems so that students understand the effects of trauma or a disease process," says Brinkmann. "But at that point we're just lightly touching on what sort of orthotic or prosthetic intervention you would use to address that condition." It's in the third session that students begin to develop their clinical thinking and knowledge of interdisciplinary treatment options.

Andrea Sherwood

Andrea Sherwood takes an impression for a foot orthosis. Photographs courtesy of NUPOC.

Drew Nutter and Senator Dick Durbin

Drew Nutter explains his upper-limb prosthetic project to Senator Dick Durbin during his visit to NUPOC.

Most NUPOC MPO students are no more than 26 years old and have an average incoming grade point average of 3.4; many of the students and applicants have prior undergraduate degrees in human movement sciences. As part of their MPO education, students have opportunities over a full year for several clinical rotations, including at private facilities, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC), and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Chicago.

Ongoing student research for the culminating capstone project includes a study to evaluate optimal cleat placement on a cycling shoe for individuals with transtibial amputations, assessment of P&O clinical services in the developing world, and analyses of practitioner communication with patients and other professionals. Groups of about five students each are mentored during the year-long research process by a faculty member with similar interests or related expertise.

As part of its goal to provide students with educational opportunities beyond the NCOPE requirements, the MPO program includes three special topics courses that offer additional "areas of emphasis we still want them to have exposure to," says Brinkmann, even if they're not required for accreditation. Special topics have included information related to pattern recognition for the control of upper-limb prostheses, subischial transfemoral socket designs, contemporary scoliosis research, and powered exoskeleton systems.

"What it means to be an O&P practitioner has changed over time, and...current practitioners need to be able to perform a variety of types of research, discuss in-depth assessments with referral sources, and justify their interventions using outcome measures," Brinkmann says. "Our goal is for students to graduate fully prepared to start a residency."

Editor's note: Articles in this series do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any program. Programs will be covered in an order determined by the editor, and all NCOPE-accredited O&P master's degree programs will be given the opportunity to be featured.

To read about previously featured programs, visit the archives and search for program profile series