Master’s Program Profile Series: University of Hartford and St. Petersburg College

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The O&P EDGE continues its series of National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)-accredited master’s level O&P educational programs.

This month we feature two programs. The first is the University of Hartford College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions (ENHP) Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO).

University of Hartford


The University of Hartford (UHart), Connecticut, a private university with more than 6,000 students, partnered with the Newington Certificate Program, Connecticut, in 2009 to begin the transition of the O&P certificate program to a master’s degree program. The last class of graduates from the Newington program will receive their certificates this spring. UHart and Hanger, Austin, Texas, the owner of Newington, continue as collaborators; Hanger hosts students at its clinical sites and provides a building for MSPO classroom space, but the university’s MSPO program is operated independently. David Knapp, BSME, MEd, CPO, is the MSPO academic director and an assistant professor who teaches courses in biomechanics, lower-limb orthotics, upper-limb prosthetics, and scientific inquiry. He is also a kinesiology lab instructor.


A student learns about socket fit

A student learns about socket fit while working with a patient model. Photographs courtesy of the University of Hartford.

The UHart MSPO is a two-year, six-semester education program that saw its first graduating class of ten in spring 2013. Three fulltime instructors and five instructors from the physical therapy (PT) program, the MSPO sister program in the UHart Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, teach classes throughout the day. In addition, nine adjunct instructors who are American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC)- certified practicing clinicians teach classes in the evenings. The variety of instructors gives students access to educators and practitioners, “the best of both worlds” from the profession, Knapp says.

Applicants to the MSPO program typically come from the Northeast United States, and share one of three educational backgrounds: health education, engineering, or natural sciences. The program has also seen a recent increase in applications from military veterans. At UHart, students can earn a bachelor of science degree in health sciences followed by the MSPO program; this “three plus two” program allows students to complete both degrees in five years. The master’s program reserves a seat for any UHart student who has completed the health sciences undergraduate degree with a declared P&O major. In 2013, six students had reserved spots, leaving 18 open in the 24-seat program, for which more than 60 applications were received.


Students practice fitting a spinal orthosis

Students practice fitting a spinal orthosis.

There is no prerequisite that incoming MSPO students must have clinical exposure, but it is encouraged and beneficial to the student’s application. According to Knapp, clinical exposure prepares the student to make an informed commitment about choosing O&P as a profession. Student research in the program is a threefold design, beginning with a research course where students learn elements such as statistics and study design. The next stage begins the yearlong “faculty-directed research,” based on ongoing research being conducted by the department’s MSPO or PT faculty. Each faculty member presents his or her current line of study; after which, based on their interest and ideas for contribution, students sign on to join one of the instructors’ research groups. Throughout the fall semester, each group of student researchers develops, defines, and describes a method by which they will contribute to move the instructors’ studies forward. The students spend their final spring semester collecting and analyzing data and preparing a manuscript for publication that describes the study design and results of their work. The manuscripts are then delivered in a presentation to the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.

For example, in the fall, seven students joined Knapp’s research project, measuring carbon AFO stiffness profiles and matching the profiles with patients’ clinical presentations. Other projects have included a study of penguins for a novel approach for designing instrumented gait analysis in nonhuman subjects, and partnership research with the humanitarian organization Limbs International. Students can also choose to participate in P&O-related PT projects, as in one project that studied prosthetic management from a physical therapy perspective.

The “modified program,” an upcoming UHart offering, will allow ABC-certified clinicians to earn their MSPO. The program’s start date is June 2014. Students in the modified program will perform the majority of their coursework online, with campus-based events of two to three days each per semester for hands-on skills work and exams. The curriculum content is identical to the standard MSPO program; the modification is in the online delivery. Because of the requirement of a master’s degree as the minimum educational standard for practitioner certification, Knapp believes there is a limited window of time during which such a program will be necessary, as most clinicians desiring this credential will have earned it either through furthering their education or will have entered the profession at the master’s degree level. Through the new program, UHart will be able to provide the service to working professionals. To date, UHart has received the majority of applications from certified prosthetist/orthotists looking to add a master’s degree in O&P to their education.

St. Petersburg College

The second program we look at this month is the St. Petersburg College, Florida, J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics program.


The St. Petersburg College (SPC), Florida, J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics program has a unique arrangement with Florida State University (FSU), Tallahassee. Students spend two years at SPC earning a bachelor’s degree in applied science in O&P, then they apply to and spend a year with program partner FSU through a consortium agreement to earn a master of science in industrial engineering with a specialization in engineering management of O&P (MSIE-EMOP). While J.E. Hanger was given naming rights as a financial supporter and supporter of the profession from the early days of O&P education, and continues as one of SPC’s industry partners in educational, clinical, and material management activities, Hanger companies have no other involvement in the school’s educational outcomes.


Students discuss a socket fit

Students discuss a socket fit issue. Photographs courtesy of St. Petersburg College.

The first class from the SPC/FSU consortium MSIE-EMOP program will graduate in 2015. SPC has offered a bachelor’s degree program in O&P since 2005; turning it into a master’s level program took more than three years and incorporated clinicians, engineers, and business professionals to construct a curriculum that would graduate “the unique, well-rounded practitioner,” says Arlene Gillis, MEd, CP, LPO, FAAOP, the program’s director. The program’s core faculty is made up of five full-time ABC-certified prosthetist/orthotists but also includes instructors from FSU’s Colleges of Business, Medicine, and Engineering. Ten FSU faculty members, all with doctoral degrees, support the 24 students during the research portion of their education.


A student works on her fabrication skills

A student works on her fabrication skills.

The program’s 27,000-square-foot educational space at SPC includes more than 8,000 square feet of lab and lab support space, and a practice treatment room that can serve up to 12 patients or patient models. The students have access to technology that can analyze gait, sports motion, posture, in-socket sensors, prosthesis alignment, and upper-limb myoelectric prosthesis testing. Gillis also says that the students are fortunate to be able to learn amidst what she describes as the rich O&P community in the area. In addition to local O&P private clinics, the students have clinical rotations through the Bay Pines U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System, St. Petersburg; Shriners Hospitals for Children—Tampa, Florida; and the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, Tampa, one of the largest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) centers for prosthetic rehabilitation, which will soon be able to facilitate rotations for up to eight SPC students per semester. Students rotate through four clinical sites in the first two years, for a total of 400 hours, then additional sites in the third year for 200 more clinical hours.

Student research currently includes working with FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute (HPMI), which in 2013 won a two-year contract with the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) to develop prosthetic socket materials that can allow for volume changes in residual limbs and offer temperature control. Research opportunities for the students can also combine with adventure. SPC’s O&P program teams with the Combat Wounded Veteran Challenge, an organization that provides “rehabilitative high-adventures and therapeutic outdoor challenges while furthering the physiological, biomedical, and pathological sciences associated with their injuries,” according to its website. The partnership has taken students scuba diving off the Florida Keys, cross-country skiing in Minnesota, and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa. For the Kilimanjaro climb in February 2013, the students provided prosthetic support for four climbers while conducting a case study about volume changes in the participants’ residual limbs throughout the climb.

In 2013, SPC received a $2 million grant that’s being used to develop what Gillis calls a “career ladder” for O&P professionals. “If you look at the other O&P graduate schools, we’re the only one who has this internal workforce ladder that we’re building,” she says. The grant will fund SPC’s O&P career training and give those entering the profession a way to use the experience and certifications he or she may already have to apply toward a higher degree. As part of the workforce career ladder development, the SPC O&P program is also in the process of starting courses for technicians, mastectomy fitters, and pedorthists, as well as developing new opportunities for practitioners to earn continuing education units.

Editor’s note: Articles in this series do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any program. Schools will be covered in an order determined by the editor and all NCOPE-accredited master’s degree programs will be given the opportunity to be featured.

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