Passion Found, Hard Work Begins

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As I start my second year in the master of science in prosthetics and orthotics (MSPO) program at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), it is exciting to think back to where I was just a little more than a year ago. I graduated in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering and hit the ground running as a budding young engineer. Shortly after beginning that run, I knew I did not want to go the distance. To put it simply, the thought of still working in the same field when I earn my Rolex watch made me sick to my stomach.

I began to search for a career that would more accurately reflect my passion for serving people, advancing technology, and applying medical treatment. I was living in Augusta, Georgia, at the time, so Georgia Tech was a natural place for me to search out educational opportunities. A friend of mine had suggested that I look into rehabilitation engineering; however, the more I looked, the more I realized that research alone was not a great fit for me. I desired a setting in which I would be working directly with people. Thankfully, during my cyber search I stumbled from Georgia Tech's biomedical engineering webpage to the orthotics and prosthetics webpage. Georgia Tech's O&P program was a perfect blend of patient service, hands-on work, and opportunities for research. After visiting the campus and a few months of researching the profession, I knew that both the university and the profession were right for me. While the O&P profession seemed a far cry from the nuclear power plant at which I was employed, I was thankful and excited for the change.

As soon as I was accepted at Georgia Tech, I sold my house, packed up all my belongings (and my unsuspecting dog), and moved to Atlanta. As the first semester progressed, I found myself buried in books half the time and covered in plaster the remainder of the time. I eagerly stood in front of a proverbial fire hydrant, soaking up information about clinical pathology, anatomy, biomechanics, gait analysis, and, of course, prosthetics and orthotics.

One Year Later

As I begin my second year of the program, I am still invigorated and excited about this new career. I love what I am doing, and I'm not even getting paid yet!

One of the most appealing aspects of this profession for me is the clearly stated need for advancement and outcomes-based research. I remember reading articles in The O&P EDGE about the need for research while I was still investigating this profession and applying to school. I wanted to play a role in meeting this need, and at Georgia Tech I will have the opportunity to contribute by conducting research while obtaining my degree. In fact, this opportunity is now staring me in the face as a graduation requirement. My summer "break" was filled with more burying of my head in books, more plaster, and, "by the way, make sure you are doing research in your spare time."

While my classmates and I are a little taken aback at the lack of time allotted for accomplishing our research, I have had to remind myself that this is great practice for the rest of our careers. How many practitioners out there have spare time to devote to the evidence-based practice approach? I suppose everyone is at least attempting to apply evidence-based practice, whether it is through documented research or anecdotal experience. However, from my clinical rotation exposure thus far, I can see that few practitioners have time to devote to thorough clinical research. It seems to be enough of a challenge to wade through basic patient-visit documentation.

As I think of the daunting task I will face in the coming months, I have to wonder when I will actually have time for all that is involved in research - Institutional Review Board approval, subject recruitment, data collection, and so on. I can only hope that this will ultimately be the preparation I need to one day balance the demands of patient care and practice management with the less pressing (but equally important) demands of clinically relevant research.

Miles to Go

Despite the demands of education, I wouldn't trade it or this career for any other. As my knowledge and experience increases, my respect and compassion for the people whom I hope someday to serve grows exponentially. Every patient and practitioner I have met and spent time with has made me more thankful for this career, which not only feeds my passion, but also provides rewards beyond my expectations.

Kristin Carnahan is a graduate student in the MSPO program at the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. She will be sharing her experiences through articles in The O&P EDGE throughout the rest of her two-year program.

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