Rethinking O&P Educational Opportunities

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By Keith Sardó, CPO

A few years ago, I was invited to be an O&P industry advisor to a group of biomedical engineering students at San Jose State University. The program is device focused and had a growing number of students interested in O&P. I consulted on their senior projects, and judged their final presentations. However, the interest in O&P outpaced the advisory hours provided, which was reflected in senior projects that missed their full potential. Ultimately, it was also affecting their probability of joining our profession and the possibility that they would make meaningful future contributions.

The program director asked if I would teach an elective class introducing O&P to biomedical engineers. I contacted colleagues in O&P education, and no one had quite the curriculum I was looking for. So, I spent many hours and late nights creating a curriculum that was specifically tailored to "an introduction to O&P for biomedical engineers." The course's official goal is "to educate engineers on the difference between the current state of O&P devices, designs, materials, and future needs…." The practical application of that goal is to undo the myths students pick up from the news and entertainment industries, and to teach them the reality of providing medically necessary products and clinical care to patients in the 21st century healthcare environment.

The first year we had 24 students. Now in our second year, we have 60 students, and I'm sure the interest will continue to grow. Like many other professions, as the instructor, I have learned as much from the students as they have from me. First, the interest in O&P runs deep as the stigma of disability wanes and the people behind the disabilities come out of the shadows and embrace their full potential. This is what inspires O&P clinicians to provide better care, and it inspires engineers to design better devices and components.

Second, we must do a better job of promoting our field and specifically making it easier to find the education requirements online. Without knowing how to search with the correct words, like prosthetist and clinician, potential O&P professionals may never find the information they need. Every year, I have students who want to become clinicians rather than engineers. However, due to some misleading news articles and the difficulty of knowing what to search for online, some students have taken a longer path to their dream. When they realize that a master's degree in biomedical engineering won't allow them to be a clinician, they have a difficult academic decision to make.

Third, I've had to remind myself that it is respectable to be an engineer in the O&P profession—being a clinician need not be everyone's goal. As a profession, O&P needs to applaud and support them with education, resources, and employment whenever and wherever we can.

As part of my larger reach, I also give O&P awareness talks and career chats at local community colleges, and I find the same lessons. I would encourage anyone in O&P to get to know their local colleges and universities and find out how to connect with them. It may not lead to a patient referral or a hired clinician, but we have the opportunity to grow and direct the interest that will shape the future of patient care.

Keith Sardó, CPO, is the area clinic manager and residency director at Hanger Clinic in San Jose, California. He can be reached at ksardo@hanger.com.