Jennifer Klein, CPO, MS, PCT

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Born and raised in Redding, California, Jennifer Klein's journey in O&P and healthcare has taken her not only around the country but also around the world. After completing her bachelor's degree in O&P at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, she travelled north to St. Paul, Minnesota, for her orthotic and prosthetic residencies at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare. She remained at Gillette until 2012 when her professional journey took her even farther afield, as she left on a two-year sabbatical to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. While her work in Ethiopia represents a brief departure from direct O&P care, it nevertheless helps her to continue in her professional goals of improving healthcare and bringing awareness and understanding to health issues.

1. How did you become interested in O&P?

When I was in high school, I was interested in physical therapy (PT), so I got a job working as a PT aide at a private clinic. Working there made me realize that a career in PT might be too monotonous for my taste; I wanted a career that demanded more creativity and problem-solving. One of the PTs at the clinic also worked with orthotics, making custom foot orthotics and supramalleolar orthoses (SMOs), which introduced me to the idea of working in O&P.

2. What has motivated or inspired you in your life and/or professional pursuits?

There are many great practitioners in O&P who are talented yet humble, and there are many patients that inspire practitioners to work harder and be more creative—it is difficult to name just one!

However, a childhood friend of my much younger sister had cerebral palsy. Even though he and his family lived in California, they travelled all the way to Gillette for multiple surgeries and for orthopedic care. His family's pursuit of quality care influenced me to apply to Gillette for my orthotic/prosthetic residencies. Plus, his overall attitude and demeanor has always been positive and inspiring.

3. What is the state of O&P in Ethiopia?

In Ethiopia, the availability of O&P care is limited to larger cities, and travelling around the country can be difficult for patients and their families. There are thermoplastics and laminates, and many of the assistive devices made here look similar to what you would see in the United States. Most of the O&P facilities in Ethiopia are nongovernmental organizations, so sustainability is a concern. In all areas of healthcare in Ethiopia, there is an interesting dynamic between government-funded and privately funded healthcare facilities. It seems that most patients prefer private facilities instead of the government-run public health offices or hospitals. So most people who can afford a private healthcare facility go there.

The Peace Corps' philosophy is to provide human capacity building through training and education to countries that request assistance, so we try to work only on projects that can be sustained by the local community.

4. Is there any part of your experience/training in O&P that you find you call upon to inform your current position with the peace corps?

Definitely! Even though in O&P we tend to concentrate on the more technical aspects, the ability to work with other people—patients, co-workers, and the medical community—is so important. The art of understanding and communicating with others is critical for success.

Most of my work now is in public health, in particular with communicable or infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, typhus, etc. Part of my work with people living with HIV (PLHIV) is to help improve the public's negative attitude or stigma toward them. I think my prior experience in working with people with physical differences can be called upon in this area, although it will need to be adapted for a different culture.

I do miss working with my hands—creating something, fixing something, whatever! Now I just use my hands for things like washing clothes by hand, eating with my right hand instead of with a fork, or fighting an impossible battle against fleas.

5. What are your top priorities and goals when working with a patient?

Understanding the patient's wants and needs, maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude, and taking enough time to address all questions or concerns.

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