Dennis Clark, CPO: There’s Always a New Horizon

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For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.

—John F. Kennedy

Dennis Clark,

Dennis Clark, CPO, can look to all three: a highly successful and rewarding 40-year career in his chosen profession; a busy, enjoyable life right now; and a future that beckons like a beacon. While some in his position might start thinking about slowing down, Clark is not about to sit back and live a placid retirement life. Actually, he did retire in 2000—for all of three years. But O&P lured him back, and he started up a new company, Clark & Associates Prosthetics and Orthotics, Waterloo, Iowa. Shortly afterward, in September 2003, Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) invited Clark and his clinical staff to go to Washington DC to help provide clinical care for soldiers with lower-limb amputations who were returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“I love the profession, and I like new technology and innovations,” Clark says. “War has always driven our profession, and the chance to be involved in all the new technology and patient care at Walter Reed was just too big of a job not to do.” Although originally expected to last through the end of 2003, their sojourn stretched into the end of May 2005, occasionally including patient care at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC), Bethesda, Maryland. During that time, Clark and his team cared for more than 300 soldiers.

Walter Reed recently closed, ending 102 years of storied service to hundreds of thousands of patients as it combines with the NNMC and moves to the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC), Bethesda. However, Clark’s experience there had a lasting impact on him. He and his team continue to provide prosthetic care for some of their former WRAMC patients and other veterans.

“The rehabilitation team at Walter Reed was the epitome of what a team should be,” Clark says, commenting on how closely and seamlessly the professionals from various healthcare disciplines worked together. “We can help promote that in our practices by establishing good relationships with physical and occupational therapists, orthopedic and vascular surgeons, neurosurgeons, and other rehabilitation specialists.

“Ask questions about surgical techniques and pain management; ask questions if you are having problems. Learn more about other professions; this will enhance your own patient care.”

Clark testifies before the House Committee on Small Business, Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology, July 16, 2008, during a hearing on “Ensuring Continuity of Care for Veteran Amputees: The Role of Small Business Practices.”

O&P Advocate

After his WRAMC experience, Clark became a spokesman and advocate for O&P on the national stage, which he describes as a highlight of his career. For instance, he was interviewed for the article, “Courage after Fire,” by Leslie Sabbagh, published in Popular Mechanics, December 2004, which describes National Guardsman Kevin Pannell’s rehabilitation. Pannell had suffered severe injuries from a grenade explosion in Iraq, which left him a bilateral amputee (transfemoral left leg, transtibial right leg).

In order to become more familiar with the abilities and motivation of individuals who suffered amputations as a result of injuries sustained during military service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) invited Clark to present his firsthand account of working with wounded veterans at WRAMC in May 2008. Clark’s presentation, “Saluting Our Differently Abled Heroes,” was hosted by the NASA Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity. “The blend of technology, the fact that NASA had contributed to the further development of prosthetics, and the specifics of Dennis’ experience with Walter Reed made a terrific fit for what we wanted to achieve,” Diversity Program Manager Bonnie McClure was quoted as saying in a news story posted on the POINT Health Centers of America (POINT), Waterloo, Iowa, website, “The presentation was a tremendous success, and we have received many wonderful comments from attendees.”

Dennis Clark, CPO, meets with President Barack Obama when the president was running for office in 2008. Pictured with Clark are his wife Susan and Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA). They discussed the ongoing needs for wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the government’s war on terror. Photographs courtesy of Dennis Clark, CPO.

Drawing on his WRAMC experiences, Clark also has testified before Congress on O&P issues and has presented on O&P in other venues. “I feel so humble and grateful to have these opportunities to show the value of what is created through prosthetic and orthotic care,” he says.

O&P Runs in the Family

Clark comes by his passion for O&P naturally; his father was noted prosthetist Dale Clark, CPO. “My father worked for Ray Trautman & Son, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for over 20 years and eventually bought out the Waterloo, Iowa, location and incorporated as Dale Clark Prosthetics in 1968,” Clark explains. He began working for his father in the summer of 1968. He earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Iowa, Iowa City, in 1976, and completed the O&P program at Northwestern University Prosthetics- Orthotics Center (NUPOC), Chicago, Illinois, in 1978.

He taught at his O&P alma mater from 1977 to 1978, and then returned as a staff orthotist for Dale Clark Prosthetics. In 1987, he bought the business from his father, selling it ten years later to take a position as vice president of NovaCare, based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. After Hanger Orthopedic Group, then based in Bethesda, Maryland, purchased NovaCare in 1999, Clark served as a regional vice president for Hanger. After a short-lived retirement, founding his new company, and stint at WRAMC, Clark returned home to his practice at Clark & Associates.

However, his scope has expanded beyond his company, including becoming president of POINT in 2007 and president of the Orthotic and Prosthetic Group of America (OPGA) in 2009. Along with Van Miller, Tom Fitzgerald, and Russell Hornfisher of The VGM Group, Clark had helped to launch OPGA in 1993. POINT had joined OPGA and The VGM Group in 2004.

He also is president of O&P1, a central fabrication facility in Waterloo and serves on the corporate advisory board for Orthocare Innovations, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Clark can look back on productive, satisfying years of active participation in national O&P organizations in several capacities, including serving as a former president of the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC), a former regional vice president of the American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association (AOPA), and a former board member of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (the Academy). He also served as a volunteer in other roles for all of these organizations.

In 2003, the Academy honored Clark with the Distinguished Practitioner Award.

Clark is a lifetime member of the Amputee Coalition, and he and his wife Susan serve on the Covenant Medical Center Foundation Board in Waterloo.

Thinking over his career thus far, Clark says, “One of the great things about this profession is the lifelong friends made along the way. You get to have wonderful friendships from coast to coast. I’ve seen the continuing level of care and integrity so many in our profession provide across the country.”

Clark stands in the nose cone of space shuttle Atlantis. Clark presented on “Saluting Our Differently Abled Heroes,” May 15, 2008, at NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity.

A Look Ahead

Clark is excited by the recent tide of new O&P technology and sees even more sweeping changes ahead. “What I tell people all the time who are thinking about prosthetics and orthotics as a career is that our profession will see more change and new technology in the next ten to 15 years than we have seen since the Civil War.” He continues, “We now have the expectation of enabling our patients to return to the true functional level they had before.” Research and technology developed by non-traditional sources outside O&P are helping to drive this wave, Clark believes, as experts in diverse areas of scientific, engineering, and medical disciplines join forces in developing new rehabilitation technology and techniques.

Clark sees more outsourcing of O&P fabrication as a new generation of clinicians emerges from the O&P education programs. “When I started in O&P, clinicians in the office taught you to be a technician—how to refine your technical skills and learn tricks of the trade. Now clinicians are receiving a more didactic education based around patient evaluations, measurements, outcomes, and appropriate patient care levels with more knowledge of disease states and related disciplines. Clinician education now is more about patient management than manufacturing.” He adds, “Gone is the day when a clinician needs to think, ‘I’m the only one who can make everything because I’m the only one who can make it the way I want it made.’

“A practitioner’s time is better spent seeing patients and on other activities which make dollars for the practice. We don’t have the margin anymore to spend time in the lab,” he adds.

Clark believes the quality of patient care is strengthened by spending more time in patient management and in collecting outcomes data that can be shared with others, producing evidence-based practice (EBP), and developing standards and outcome expectations.

Although Clark appreciates the profession moving to an entry-level master’s degree requirement, he strongly feels that a degree and credentials alone are no assurance to payers of positive outcomes. “Once we can show payers true, reliable evidence, they will see the value of working with trained, credentialed practitioners and accredited organizations versus those that aren’t.”

Mentoring Upcoming Generations

Clark praises those who have shared their clinical and business knowledge and the outstanding educators who have spent their lives educating students of O&P. “They not only have worked for their own interests but also to advance the profession.

“Those of us who have been in the profession for a long time need to be mentoring—sharing our knowledge and experience with those entering the field,” he continues. “We also need to be patient and remember that when we were right out of school, we knew everything too. But someone took the time with us to help us learn more, and we too need to help the ones entering the profession to expand their outlook as much as we’ve been able to. I was fortunate to have my father as a mentor; he was not only a great teacher and prosthetist, but also very patient, and I needed that.”

Clark and his wife Susan are heading for new horizons in family life too, as they have recently adopted two boys, Cayden, age three, and Luke, age one. Their older children are Brandt, 29, and Sarah, 26, who is following her father into O&P as the third generation. She is currently gaining experience by working at O&P 1.

Miki Fairley is a freelance writer based in southwest Colorado. She can be reached at

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