Unity Through Diversity, Part 2: Women Executive Leaders Guide O&P Education, Credentialing

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By Miki Fairley

With a decade or more of service each, three women executive leaders have been guiding the education, training, and certification of incoming orthotists and prosthetists as well as other O&P specialists including technicians, assistants, pedorthists, and orthotic, mastectomy, and therapeutic shoe fitters, and the accreditation of their workplaces.

The O&P EDGE  interviewed Claudia Zacharias, MBA, CAE, president and CEO of the Board of Certification/Accreditation (BOC), Catherine A. Carter, MA, executive director of the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC), and Robin Seabrook, executive director of the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE).

Claudia Zacharias, MBA, CAE

Guiding BOC Through Change, Innovation

As president and CEO, Claudia Zacharias, MBA, CAE, views her role as filling two categories: management and leadership. "The management category is to fulfill the goals set by the board of directors. The leadership role includes such aspects as vision-casting, representing BOC to the public, strategic planning, and guiding the culture here at BOC."


Challenges, Opportunities

Zacharias says, "We've always been an innovative organization; for instance, we created the orthotic fitter and mastectomy fitter certifications, so I think we will always stick to our core mission of ensuring quality credentialing and look for innovative ways to continue to serve."


Zacharias is proud that BOC has become known for excellent customer service, in 2019 winning its ninth consecutive Stevie Award, business awards recognizing achievements of organizations and working professionals.


Zacharias notes that BOC is in a strong financial position. "We have healthy reserve funds, and that enables us to focus on our mission without the distraction of financial worries.


"This field is constantly changing, and it is not possible to slow down or coast. There is always something new on the horizon, so it takes a lot of work to stay ahead," Zacharias points out, especially relating to CMS and other governmental/regulatory issues.


Because of this, she appreciates the O&P Alliance. "We in this profession have many threats and challenges, but internally we definitely can achieve more when we speak with one voice. I'm very proud of the unique perspective that BOC has been able to bring to the table."


As for opportunities, Zacharias highlights continued collaboration among O&P organizations, "so that we can all help each other grow, share resources, keep up with changes, and stay committed to our ultimate goal of ensuring exceptional care to patients. The O&P profession is continuing to become better recognized by the whole rehabilitation field for the role we play in healthcare."



"I would never call myself a great leader, but I'm a great student of leadership," Zacharias says. "I really enjoy reading, taking classes, and going to conferences [for leadership development]. I like to learn new things and to challenge my thinking."


A resource that Zacharias has found especially important to her management style is Gallup's StrengthFinder (now called CliftonStrengths). The assessment helps people know what their strengths are and then leverage those strengths for more productivity, engagement, and happiness at work. Organizations can likewise learn where to best place employees and volunteers to optimize their strengths and abilities. "I've taken it, my staff has taken it, and our board members have taken it," Zacharias says.


Another influence in her career has been her work at the U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland. "I flourished in that culture. I learned the irreplaceable value of responsibility and accountability." Since then, she reports that she always maintains what she calls her wisdom circle—people to call on for advice when needed.


Several authors and presenters have influenced her, including Marshall Goldsmith, especially his book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, and Malcolm Gladwell and his books. She is also a fan of the "Start With Why" approach espoused by Simon Sinek. Zacharias has won numerous awards and honors for leadership during her ten-year career at BOC and gives much credit to her team. "Anytime I received any recognition, the entire staff at BOC shares in that [award]. No one can be successful without a lot of great people around."



Zacharias has been married for 34 years. She and her husband Eric have an adult son, Ian. Ian and his wife Melody have three children: Eli, who is three, and twins, Bennett and Emma, who were born in August 2018. One of Zacharias' passions is cooking. "I think one reason I love to cook is that at work when I start a plan or project, I may have to wait months or longer for it to be accomplished, but cooking is a project I can start, finish, and enjoy in one day."

Catherine A. Carter

More Than Two Decades of Credentialing

Catherine A. Carter, MA, has been serving ABC for 23 years, first as director of professional credentialing and then for the last 15 years as executive director. She directs the organizational leadership of all ABC activities including strategic planning initiatives, program development and financial management. She communicates ABC's goals, policies, and activities to the profession and participates as a speaker and panel member at international, national, and regional meetings and conferences.


During those years, the number of ABC-certified individuals has grown from 5,000 to more than 12,000, and the number of accredited facilities has grown from 1,200 to 5,000, Carter says. ABC also developed new credentials to address gaps in provision of care, including those for certified assistants, pedorthists, and orthotic, mastectomy, and therapeutic shoe fitters.

Practitioner clinical patient management exams have been transformed to maintain their relevancy to current education and contemporary practice and by creating digital platforms and establishing a testing center to broaden testing capabilities. She adds that ABC has a strong financial base that supports its mission and programs.

In 2007, ABC ramped up its accreditation program to quickly expand and provide accreditation to a much larger number of facilities to gain deemed authority status with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

Carter has focused on improving ABC's services by creating a director of clinical resources position filled by Steve Fletcher, CPO, an experienced O&P practitioner, to provide timely, accurate answers and solutions to even complex, urgent questions from ABC credential holders, she explains. "The benefit to our stakeholders and our staff was immediate and has been an ongoing and extremely valuable resource for ABC."

ABC is volunteer driven, so Carter instituted a leadership education program to create a culture of informed, engaged leadership. "All levels of volunteers—task force members, committee members, examiners, board members—need to be engaged and appreciated,"  she says.

Carter mentions the major changes in the profession over the years, echoing some of the changes Seabrook mentioned: raising the level of entry-level education for orthotists and prosthetists to a master's degree, more states requiring licensure, greater recognition of the O&P practitioner as a fundamental part of the rehabilitation team, and use of technology.


Carter sees an abundance of opportunities and some challenges for the O&P profession related to increasing need for O&P patient care services, technology use, changes in the delivery of care model reimbursement issues, distinguishing O&P from other healthcare professions, outcomes studies and evidence-based practice, and research. "Hand skills need to go along with increased knowledge," Carter says. "O&P professionals must be able to digest and apply research."



Carter sees ABC's focus remaining on setting standards for the profession, "but we'll also strive to ensure that we continue to create programs that benefit our stakeholders based on their future needs. The ABC board of directors is always looking ahead to align our strategic vision with the future.

"The O&P Alliance has greatly changed the way the O&P organizations collaborate on the Alliance's three priorities of quality and qualifications, coverage and reimbursement, and education and research. The Alliance has increased our interorganizational communication and assisted with developing a greater opportunity for speaking with one voice. Each organization continues to hold its mission up while coming together on common challenges and opportunities."

When Carter became executive director, ABC had a staff of eight "that worked in their own departments with little input to ABC's programs outside their own area," Carter says. "I wanted to create a more collaborative environment at ABC. We began to educate all of our staff about all of ABC's programs and how they impact the services individuals in need of O&P care receive. Today we have a cohesive team of 17 that understands what Harry Truman meant when he said, ‘It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.'"

Because her father was an Army officer, Carter says while she was growing up, she and her family called many places home. When asked about what has especially influenced her life course and goals, Carter answers, "The largest influence in my life have probably been my parents who taught me the most important things you can do are to love and support your family, your work, and your country." In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.

Robin Seabrook

NCOPE Executive Director Since Its Beginning

Robin Seabrook has been involved with O&P educational and certification organizations for 32 years and has served as NCOPE's executive director from its inception. Seabrook started her O&P career with ABC and then was a staff member for the Educational Accreditation Commission (EAC) created by ABC. NCOPE grew from the EAC and operated independently from 1991 to 1999 under the national office structure, Seabrook says. In 1999, NCOPE was incorporated and continues its mission to establish accreditation and evaluation procedures in O&P education and aid in the development of new programs.

As executive director, Seabrook is the key management leader and is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs, and strategic plan of the organization in accord with the board of directors' guidelines.

In her tenure, Seabrook has seen important advances in the O&P profession, including:
■             The creation of NCOPE as an independent organization.
■             Formal recognition by the American Medical Association (AMA) of O&P as an allied health profession, which enabled NCOPE to participate with the accreditation umbrella group, the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation. The AMA later supported an independent group to accredit allied health education that later became the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, with which NCOPE still participates.
■             Establishment of residency in O&P programs and development of an accreditation process around that structure, a process that Seabrook calls "a paradigm shift in how individuals are trained and gain experience within O&P."
■             Elevation of the minimum education for orthotist/prosthetists from the bachelor's degree/post-baccalaureate certificate to a master's degree, which she says is "one of the biggest, both for the profession and for NCOPE."
■             Development and implementation of the NCOPE Tracker system for tracking patient encounters nationally by all residents at accredited programs.
■             Development of the O&P Alliance, thus helping "all of the sister organizations to work towards speaking as one voice at the federal level and, at times, state level."
■             Licensure attainment in 15 states. "When I started there was no licensure in any state," Seabrook says.

"NCOPE provides the pipeline of future care providers and therefore the future workforce for the services patients will need, as well as future members of our sister membership organizations, and that role will continue into the future," Seabrook says. "Each organization holds a piece of the puzzle: When all of the pieces of the puzzle connect, you have the profession as a whole."

NCOPE is becoming a more data-driven organization, utilizing collected data to assist in making decisions on accreditation as well as sharing data with the profession, Seabrook says. "Opportunities lay with outcomes and data. NCOPE has the opportunity to leverage data to both drive the profession and their organization on decisions, standards, and overall organizational missions and goals."

Seabrook notes that a challenge to O&P is how the federal government and specifically Medicare view O&P, seeing it more in terms of providing devices rather than patient care. "The profession is unique, and the story to be shared—giving people back their mobility—is a great one. But sometimes it is lost when all anyone can see is the device."

Seabrook describes her management style as collaborative and results based. "I involve the staff in many organizational decisions; we truly work as a team. I need the staff to understand and buy in to the program services they oversee. If a staff member comes up with a superior way of doing things, I am happy to make changes to our process or policies."

Robin and her husband John were high school sweethearts and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in November 2018. The have a son Matthew, 25, and a daughter Erin, 23.

When asked if there was anyone who has influenced her goals and course in life, Seabrook answers, "My life was influenced greatly by my mother, who lost her husband at the age of 33. She handled raising us four with grace, pride, resilience, and love. She died at the fairly young age of 60, but she was a role model of strength, spirit, and independence. I have always wanted to emulate that in my life both personally and professionally."


Miki Fairley is a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be contacted at miki.fairley@gmail.com.