Benefits of International Communication

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In our busy lives, there is always an overarching sense of economy with respect to attention, activity, and financial support of professional groups. Many of us ask the question, “Why do I belong to professional groups, and what are they really doing for me?” But the question can also be asked, “What differentiates me from any other clinician?” These are common concerns among professionals who have limited time to develop professional associations, conduct research, or share opinions beyond their local groups. Creating a group of contacts beyond similar contexts provides significant differentiating qualities.

Affiliation with the global academy of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO) introduces the member to the shared perspectives of cross-disciplinary teams from other countries including physicians, therapists, and engineers, as well as orthotists and prosthetists. The exchanges within those teams enhance the experience of many practitioners by challenging them to reflect on the clinical validity of their own understanding. Even in this age of instant exchange of information, linkages between clinicians are becoming increasingly isolated.

Conversely, seeking exposure to different global contexts allows individuals to gain new perspectives. For example, many European countries are not encumbered by the L-Code system, allowing them to explore other areas of development, such as time efficiency, specialization, and quality measures. Clinicians in Latin America, often faced with providing greater volume at far less cost, adapt the techniques found in the United States and Europe, using less expensive materials or creatively hybridizing dissimilar componentry to provide innovative solutions. Knowledge can be gained from other industries as well. The fashion industry, for example, has devoted considerably more investment and development to CAD/CAM and 3D modeling.

This global perspective challenges our standard way of thinking and directs us to undergo a fundamental shift in thinking—a metanoia1—to meet the demands of the future. On a recent visit to Germany, a local prosthetist asked me why U.S. prosthetists put the cabling external to the arm prosthesis. He said, “It seems as though the plumbing is on the outside of the house.” This caused me to reflect on our cabling and harnessing system and how it could be made more cosmetic and comfortable for patients.

Belonging to an international society also serves practical purposes like getting the chance to preview and hear early feedback on componentry that isn’t yet distributed in the United States. There may also be solutions in the international community in the form of components, fabrication, or processes that are difficult to source in the United States—labor-intensive leather or metal work from Europe, or robotic walkers and electronic rehabilitation machines currently only available in Asia, for example. Much of the research conducted outside the United States may not find its way to publications here.

The final benefit is the differentiation that comes from acting as a change agent. By using ISPO resources, such as P&O International, international symposia, and professional contacts, a clinician positively influences his or her professional credibility as a technologic reference. The exposure to and application of a more diverse set of ideas and innovations helps to differentiate the level of care as it is adapted from global to local contexts. Participation at this broader level serves not only the participant and patient, but also strengthens the clinical knowledge of the global O&P community, which is especially relevant as the profession undergoes dramatic shifts and transitions.


  1. Senge, Peter M. 2006. The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency/Doubleday.

Gerald Stark, MSEM, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, is a senior upper-limb clinical specialist for Ottobock Healthcare, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a member of the board of the U.S. Member Society of the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (US ISPO).

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