Finishing Is Not the End

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As I approach the end of my orthotic residency, I've asked myself what were the most important things I learned. At first, I needed to gain self-confidence as patients questioned my experience, and their unique conditions challenged my orthotic expertise. Then, I learned how communication with my healthcare team could determine the overall success or failure of my orthotic device. Finally, as my residency progressed, I began to realize the importance of connecting on a personal level with my patients to provide better patient care.

After all of that, I took a break while on maternity leave and now, before I even realize it, I am back in the groove and in the final lap of my residency. Having taken some time off three-quarters of the way through my residency, this last stretch seems almost unnecessary—or at least a bit out of place. It already feels as if my residency is complete. On paper it's not yet finished; I still have a case study to present, a plethora of forms to fill out, and a month or two to finish before I'm formally board eligible. Still, it's hard to explain the feeling of coming back after three months away.

Perhaps I feel this way because since my residency started, time has flown by, and now that I have a baby, time is only flying faster. Or, maybe I feel this way because now that I have a family to watch after, the day-to-day worries of residency seem smaller and less significant. On the other hand, perhaps it's just that I am finally becoming comfortable with myself as an independent orthotist—meaning those small things that nagged at the back of my mind before are no longer an issue.

I know this is not the end. There are still things I'd like to work on for my own personal growth as an orthotist. For example, I now feel comfortable communicating with my co-workers and patients, but I still need to work on creating good relationships with the physicians who refer patients my way. Around some doctors, I still feel invisible—like I have to jump in front of them, shake hands, and introduce myself to make myself known; otherwise, they breeze right by. When they do take notice, they do not hesitate to ask hard questions and expect smart, can-do answers! Usually, when I put my best foot forward, I succeed and realize there was hardly anything to worry about. However, I still can't fight that little bit of apprehension when the call comes in that "the doctor wants to see whoever fit this patient, pronto!"

Yes, I know, doctors are human too. Communicating with them shouldn't be any different from communicating with my patients, my co-workers, or the rest of the healthcare team. Nevertheless, their sometimes-strong personalities and curt or hurried responses can curb my enthusiastic spirit. But then again, I am still a resident—I have long since realized that the first few years of working as an orthotist will be filled with trials and errors, so the learning shall continue.

Even with this, I am glad that I soon will no longer be an orthotic resident. Not that being a board-eligible orthotist really is very different from being an orthotic resident, but it does provide a sense of completion, a sign of getting through a year that was one crazy roller-coaster ride.

Of course, I shan't relish this feeling too long, as I see my prosthetic residency upcoming on the horizon. I am going to take a year off between residencies, but before I know it, I'll once again take the plunge and ride the residency roller coaster—this time a little wiser. I can take what I have learned about communicating with my healthcare team, connecting with my patients, and perhaps most of all, trusting in myself, to make smoother waves for myself as I sail the newest horizons.

Stephanie LeGare is a graduate of the Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics program at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. She is a resident at the National Orthotics and Prosthetics Company (NOPCO) in Boston, Massachusetts, and has been sharing her experiences as she completes her first year as an orthotic resident.

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