The O&P Question

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When you first meet someone in O&P, you'll inevitably be asked one question the O&P question. You've all been asked it. I've been asked it so many times during school and at the beginning of my residency that I've come to the conclusion that it's an unspoken pact in this field that we must ask this of one another as an appropriate greeting: "So, how did you get into O&P?"

Two years ago, I was packing up my desk from my quality-engineering job in the automotive industry when my boss strolled up to me and said, "You know, its not too late to change your mind." I smiled politely and continued packing, knowing that I was following my ambition to change my path in life. I liked my job well enough, but something was missing. I worried a lot about machinery, production numbers, and customer returns, but when I went home at night, I was never really sure if anything I had done that day had made a difference. I knew I didn't want the rest of my career to be like that. So I finished packing my desk, went home and packed up the rest of my belongings, and moved my life across Michigan, from Saint Joseph to Ypsilanti, to enroll as a graduate student in Eastern Michigan University's (EMU) master's degree program in O&P. After graduating this spring, I found myself packing yet again to begin my year of residency at the University of Michigan Orthotics & Prosthetics Center (UMOPC), Ann Arbor.

I thought that I had been through enough "first days" to sail through the beginning of my residency, but as I was ironing my clothes, I realized that I was flooded with nervous emotions. I found myself wondering if I had learned enough in school, if my hand skills were adequate, or if I should have reviewed muscle anatomy again last night.

During my first month at UMOPC, I was assigned to a technical rotation in the fabrication lab. At first, it was intimidating to be working with technicians who fabricate with an artistry and skill that made my AFO look like a craft for a Girl Scout badge. But I approached this opportunity in the lab humbly and enthusiastically. When a senior technician offered to show me his method of thermoforming an AFO by using only his two handsknowing in school it took us six hands to get a good pullI wondered how he would do it and if it was possible. Sure enough, with one fluid motion of his arms and the help of his knee, it worked perfectly. I respected that he was taking time to teach me a fabrication method, so I knew that when it was my turn, I had to give it my all. I gloved up, opened the oven, and tried to mimic exactly what I had witnessed. I don't really know how I did it, but as he turned the valve to draw vacuum, I heard the sweet sound of the polymer drawing in without the hiss of a leak. Success! Then he said to me, "Not bad. You might make a career out of this yet. So...how did you get into O&P?"

When someone asks me that question now, I don't just view it as a rite of passage. I like to think of it as a kindred spirit acknowledging my choice to walk the path of O&P. I am filled with warmth because I know, in part, that I am discovering in O&P what I failed to find in my previous career. Everyone I've met in this profession appears to be here because they genuinely love what they do. It is especially recognizable at this time in my education. In my new role of "resident," I am astonished at how readily clinicians and technicians alike allow me to observe and assist, and how willing they are to take the time to explain a technique or design. They understand that I need this year to absorb and strengthen my skills in becoming a competent practitioner. The greatest thanks I can give them is to take advantage of the opportunity they are providing and strive to become a caring and knowledgeable clinician. And at the end of the day, that makes all the difference.

Sara Pschigoda is a graduate of the master of science in orthotics and prosthetics program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU), Ypsilanti. She is a resident at the University of Michigan Orthotics & Prosthetics Center (UMOPC), Ann Arbor, and will be sharing her experiences as she completes her residency.

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