Program Profile Series: Century College, Francis Tuttle Technology Center, and Spokane Falls Community College
The O&P EDGE concludes its series of National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)-accredited O&P programs by featuring three O&P technology education programs.
Century College, Orthotic Technology and/or Prosthetic Technology, Associate in Applied Science (AAS); and Orthotic Technician and/or Prosthetic Technician Diploma
Program Director Stan O'Connor, CP, has been an instructor in the O&P technician program at Century College, White Bear Lake, Minnesota, for 28 years; the program celebrated its 40th anniversary in September. The school's post-baccalaureate certificate O&P practitioner program ended last spring, transitioning to a master's degree program in partnership with Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Century College is the lead college and administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grant for the unification, development, and expansion of national O&P education."[We] here at Century have had a technical program and a post-baccalaureate practitioner certification and nothing in between," says O'Connor. "Now that the practitioner program has transitioned to a master's level, it only makes sense to have an assistant's level curriculum...."
One strength of the technician program, and a benefit to O&P in general, according to O'Connor, is the college's extensive O&P library, the growth and vitality of which he credits to the direction and management of Sheryl Langevin, who has maintained the library's collection since the program's inception. The school also has an active Orthotic and Prosthetic Student Association (OPSA) that represents the O&P department on campus. OPSA works to maintain awareness of Century's O&P programs and to connect students with the greater O&P community.
Students in the technician program have several options to complete their education. They can complete either the orthotics or prosthetics education only, but at least 75 percent choose the dual discipline. They can earn a diploma in one year with 46 credits (40 credits per discipline, plus six general education credits), or complete an additional 14 general education credits to earn an AAS degree.
After completion of their coursework, students are required to spend a minimum of 120 hours per discipline at clinical sites. There are 11 local private facilities and hospitals that provide clinical experiences. Students can also choose a facility closer to home as long as they will be under the supervision of an experienced technician and/or certified practitioner, O'Connor says. "The clinical experience gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their acquired hand skills and apply the concepts they have learned in school. The experience helps to bridge the gap from the traditional training received in school to real-life orthotics and prosthetics."
As an open-entry school, Century students can begin their education in the fall, spring, or summer semester. The curriculum is divided into specific courses but is self-paced, so students can master or redo projects as their skills allow. Students spend five hours each weekday in the lab with one of the four certified instructors, and another 90 minutes per day on preparation and testing. "It's basically a five-hour open lab. And within that open lab we teach and help manage each individual student or very small groups," O'Connor says.
For fabrication assignments, students are required to create three versions of a particular device. It is the fourth version that instructors grade for mastery or send back for correction. "We're there to help coach them," says O'Connor. "When they fabricate the first device, we're with them step-by-step; we're showing them what we want and explaining concepts. And they get to practice the task two more times, asking questions and receiving help, further clarification, and greater understanding. By the fourth fabrication, they then have a good understanding of the requirements needed to produce a functional device. This learning style is what we feel makes our program really strong-having that ability to get your hands on these projects and do as many as you can to reinforce the concepts while refining your technique."
There are resources for 32 students in each of two sections per day. Fifty-nine students are currently enrolled; 41 of them are men. The cohort that began this fall is mostly women. The O&P technician program also has two high school students enrolled, who spend two hours per day in the lab. O'Connor estimates that about 50 percent of incoming students have a four-year degree and enroll to gain further specialization or career retraining, and that the remainder is split between those enrolling directly after their high school education and those starting a second career. Undergraduate degrees in kinesiology and sports medicine are well represented among the program's students.
O'Connor says he has noticed one change in student preparedness for their O&P education. "Over the 28 years, I see a lot less shop skills, hand skills.... We're spending more time at that level to introduce students to hand drills [and] band saws.... I believe we're seeing a change in the high school programs where they don't have the shop classes or hands-on types of training." He also says that in the last year or two several new students had mentioned that career and aptitude test results directed them toward a career in O&P.
Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Orthotic & Prosthetic Technician Program, Certificate of Completion
The O&P technician program at Francis Tuttle Technology Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, began in 1999. Joseph Young, CPO, who began his career as an O&P technician in 1992, is the director and a full-time instructor in the school's technician and pedorthic programs. (See "Education Outlook" in the October issue of The O&P EDGE to read about the pedorthic education program.)
In the O&P technician program, students can study to become an orthotic technician, a prosthetic technician, or both. The orthotic technician program requires 1,320 hours of education; prosthetic education requires 1,552 hours. When the specialties are combined, the seat time is 2,640 hours and can be completed in less than two years if taken as full-time coursework. After students earn the certificate of completion, the program credits can be applied toward an AAS degree at Oklahoma City Community College.
The technician education program is an open-entry program, with start dates in nearly every month of the year, which allows students to begin and end the program as their schedules and proficiency permit. Proficiency is established through progress-based, self-directed learning activity packets that students complete at their own pace-as soon as one task is completed successfully, they are free to move to the next, and can redo projects until they are satisfied with the quality. Knowledge is tested through computer-based quizzes and tests, and projects are evaluated by instructors. The O&P technician program includes additional education for graduates to earn an orthotic fitter certificate concurrently.
There are usually 13 students in various stages of the program. The learning activity curriculum is delivered online, and students attend classes full time, four days per week, during which they complete the self-paced tasks with instructor guidance. "[Students working at their own pace] is great for the hands-on technical portion; it's a great way to learn because they're always learning something," rather than having to move at a group pace, says Young.
Program applicants must take a manual dexterity test to see how well they can use their spatial abilities and hand skills. "We've found that very helpful in counseling the students before they begin the program," Young says. "We've found that people who do well on the test tend to complete the program and go on to work in the field.... We don't ever keep a student out because of those scores, but we do counsel them before they come in based upon those scores."
The demographics of the student cohorts have been fairly diverse, which Young credits to the school's success in "drawing [students] from around the nation and locally." The program's enrollment typically comprises students who are directly out of high school up to 50 year olds looking for a second or third career. There have been some changes in the demographics; over the last three or four years the gender makeup of the classes has shifted to a higher proportion of women than men, says Young.
Students in the O&P technician program have no in-class requirements on Friday. This offers them time to complete Francis Tuttle's pedorthic education program online, if they choose; both programs share instructors, Young and Dee McKasson, CO. Students can also earn the orthotic fitter certificate by spending eight consecutive Fridays attending the related lectures and completing the lab work.
Students must spend 300 hours per specialty at clinical experience sites. According to Young, that is where the students' skills are first put to the test in a "real-world work environment."
Spokane Falls Community College (SFCC), Orthotics & Prosthetics Technician program, Certificate of Completion or AAS
The O&P technician program at SFCC, Spokane, Washington, began in 1985 and is the only such program in the western United States. About 15 years ago, the program was able to increase its class size from 24 to 32 students when it moved to its current 9,000-square-foot quarters. Clayton Wright, CP, is the program director and the prosthetics instructor. He was an O&P practitioner from 1980 until 1993, when he began as an instructor at SFCC. Bernard Hewey, CPO, the program's orthotics instructor, began practice as an orthotist in 1973 while he was in the U.S Army, and began at SFCC in 2004. The two instructors, along with support from a lab assistant, teach the O&P technician program's 32 students-16 students per discipline.
Wright says that in his years as an instructor, the biggest changes he has seen are the advances in prosthetics technology, a steady influx of women enrolling in the program (currently about 40 percent of the students), and a decline in hand skills of the incoming students. However, he notes, "What we're seeing is a decline in hand skills with a conversant increase in technical skills, in terms of computer literacy. Both of those are just a reflection of the times."
Students can earn a certificate of completion in either orthotics or prosthetics, which are individual one-year programs, or complete both disciplines to earn an AAS degree and be prepared to sit for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) technician certification exam. SFCC has an open-entry platform that allows students to begin the program in the fall, winter, or spring quarter, and the O&P technician program's educational tasks are competency-based, so students can work at their own pace. "In competency-based education, the advancement of the individual occurs when they demonstrate competency in a given task," says Wright. "So it doesn't have the regimental, calendared discipline [that requires] on a certain day you have to be at this point in the curriculum...." Open-entry and competency-based education "give students a great deal of flexibility, but it does make managing the classroom challenging," he says, because students may be at different points in the curriculum and require different levels of instruction.
Each discipline requires three quarters of study and lab work, followed by a five-week, off-site clinical experience during the fourth quarter. Because of the variable start dates, and because the program doesn't offer classes during the summer quarter, students may have a quarter pause in their education or can begin the coursework for the other discipline, which Wright says uses their time more efficiently.
The competency-based courses, such as fabricating a prosthesis or KAFO, are "broken down into a series of very distinct tasks. So if there's any redo or remediation, it doesn't involve rebuilding the entire project...," says Wright. "[When students] finish one of these distinct tasks, they'll turn that work in, along with a performance assessment that has criteria broken down to industry standards. For instance, some of our second-quarter students are embarking on a locking liner transtibial prosthesis. And so they have to turn in the plaster work to demonstrate that the plaster's smooth, that the specifications are correct, that the marks are in the right place...."
For incoming students, Wright and Hewey provide counsel to ensure that each student has a realistic picture of the profession. "We introduce them as well to the delineation of the roles between a practitioner and a technician and the kind of jobs they're going to do, and we encourage them to do job shadowing.... [We] encourage them to take their time to make a sound decision." A number of students, usually in their 20s and 30s, enroll with the intent of continuing to O&P master's degree programs. For those students, Wright encourages them to consider a one-year certificate. "That way they're compressing their educational career.... And it helps them discern what role they really want to play in the O&P profession." Other students take just one discipline as a pathway to a job in the profession and plan to learn the other discipline on the job. "Or what happens, not infrequently, is they'll go on their [first] clinical experience... and they'll get hired out of that experience. And we count that as a success because it gets a person into a job."
Editor's note: Articles in this series do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any program. Programs were covered in an order determined by the editor, and all NCOPE-accredited degree programs, pedorthic programs, and O&P technician programs were given the opportunity to be featured.
To read about previously featured programs, visit the archives and search for program profile series.