Are We Doing Enough to Meet Future Needs?

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After serving for some time on the educational side of the O&P profession, I must ask myself whether my esteemed colleagues truly care. I mean, as a whole do we really care about the future of this profession? Not our independent financial futures and whether we ourselves will be financially healthy or secure. Not to say that is not important, but isn't there something more?

It's not really about financial independence, wealth, or even just survival alone, is it? As part of my duties here at Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee, I travel and recruit possible candidates for our programs and am constantly amazed at the miniscule segment of society that has any clue as to who we (O&P practitioners and professionals) are, what we do, or how we got there!

I realize we are a comparatively small field and young organizationally. But how is it that so few possess any amount of knowledge about our profession? Why aren't our national professional entities inundating the public with information about O&P? We really don't need another article about how patient so-and-so received a prosthesis at XYZ Prosthetics Inc., and now look at him run the 40-yard dash, swim the Atlantic, play 36 holes of golf, etc.

While these accomplishments are wonderful and inspirational, these stories do not inform the public about how that person was provided a prosthesis, how the prosthetist knew to provide the wonderful outcome, how that prosthetist got into this field, and how and where the prosthetist was educated and trained. Is it that difficult to get this information into the media? What about ads that describe the profession and the pathways to entrance, including a list of all the available O&P educational programs? We must do something about this increasing need and our alarming inability to properly meet these needs.

I am certain that we as a profession must do something. I refuse to believe that my valued colleagues don't care about the future of this profession and the public that depends on us. That isn't just my idealism shining through again, is it?

I honestly hope I have not offended anyone beyond the point of positive action, for that is not my aim. I hope to inspire a formidable force into action. I am sure that individuals of much greater intellect than I are able to conceive much better ideas in solving this looming issue. So let's get started. Each of us can make an impact. Maybe a portion of our MCE requirements should include an annual presentation at a local high school. Present a short program describing our field, the public need, and educational opportunities at a local career fair, senior day, or career tech; send out a flier describing an O&P educational program to a career counselor; submit an article to your local newspaper and include information about some of the educational programs in O&P; or make a complete career shift into education and apply at one of our outstanding O&P educational institutions.

We must all do our part if this profession is to continue and become poised to meet the demands of the next few years and following generations.

End Note

Since posting the above on the OANDP-L listserv, I have received several comments that pointed out that I did not give proper recognition to our organizations concerning ongoing efforts to inform the public about our field. I apologize for neglecting to mention these efforts. I am familiar with the efforts of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (the Academy) and the National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) residency requirements. 

My intent was to encourage individual and organizational efforts in disseminating O&P profession information to the public at large and prod teachers (you know who you are) to become O&P educators. My intention was that each of us ask ourselves, "Are we doing enough to meet the needs of the future?" Are the current initiatives making an identifiable difference? How do we know? Do we need to know?

My personal experiences in recruitment and education tell me we should know but we don't. It seems as though we need some type of outcome measure in order to validate efforts or to redirect energies. I recognize the difficulty in a proposal of this kind. However, without assessment measures, how are we sure those efforts are fruitful and our intended goal(s) are being met?

I think our profession and the public need for our profession requires that we find out. Then we will be able to acknowledge that we are doing all that is needed or understand where we are lacking and adjust accordingly. Of course this is only my opinion. 

Thank you to all of those who are already involved in these efforts. I have recently been informed that the Academy has employed outcome measures in order to assess current efforts. I look forward to the results. 

Keith Crownover, CPO, is the director of O&P programs at Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee.

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