Master’s Program Profile Series: Georgia Institute of Technology

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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 the Georgia Institute of Technology Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program.


gender graphic, classes of 2012 and 2013

Three factors led the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Atlanta, to develop the United States’ first entry-level MSPO program, a four-semester, two-year curriculum, which began in fall 2002 with five students. According to Robert Kistenberg, MPH, CP, LP, FAAOP, the program’s codirector, the objectives were to expand professional credibility, provide clinicians the skills to interpret and add to the growing body of O&P knowledge, and “expand the level of practitioner sophistication to match that of the technology we are now being asked to provide….” The increasing education levels available to other allied healthcare professionals left the program’s developers concerned that without similar educational advancement, it could “[leave] the prosthetists and orthotists behind on the level of credibility [when compared to] the rest of the healthcare professions,” says Kistenberg. He also explains that the research base for O&P “has generally been scant, which can be attributed to the clinicians who graduated from baccalaureate-level programs who were not enabled with the skillset to be effective contributors in the research arena…. [The] only way to enhance that body of knowledge was to provide a research skillset to the practitioners so that we could start from within our own ranks….”

The MSPO program, which Kistenberg codirects with Christopher Hovorka, MS, CPO, LPO, FAAOP, is part of Georgia Tech’s School of Applied Physiology. Hovorka is the coordinator of orthotics, Kistenberg of prosthetics; they split administrative duties. Aside from Kistenberg and Hovorka, who also are program instructors, the faculty and staff includes, among others, a certified prosthetic-orthotic assistant and orthotic technician, who supervises the laboratory work; a certified prosthetist/orthotist who has an MSPO degree; and a bioengineer with a doctoral degree, who also is a certified orthotist.


First year students

First-year students work on KAFOs. Photograph courtesy of the Georgia Tech MSPO Program.

One of the initial concerns within the profession about the effect of requiring master’s-level O&P education was that it could lead to graduates only skilled in research, but “we’re trying to generate great clinicians who have research skills,” says Kistenberg. Data from the Georgia Tech MSPO program supports that objective: Of the 88 graduates since 2002, 78 are practicing O&P clinicians or residents. The same data set shows that of those graduates, just over half are women.

The program moved off campus to a more spacious location in 2011, allowing for an increase in admissions and added research resources, as well as safety and functional improvements so patient models can comfortably move throughout the space. There has recently been an upswing in applications, and on average, three to four applications per available seat have been received. Georgia Tech’s MSPO program does not require its applicants to have prior O&P experience, because “exposure might not be consistent with experience,” and any skills advantage gained through fieldwork “can be equalized as part of their education,” says Kistenberg.


While a majority of MSPO students have an engineering background, few MSPO applicants or students have completed their undergraduate work at Georgia Tech. Kistenberg also noted that it is the exception to see an MSPO applicant immediately after he or she has completed undergraduate work—some have been away from school for several years. “We get a number of applicants who went to work for a while after completion of their undergraduate degrees, [and] then they decided to get into a different profession. So they’re coming back to school with some life experience, which is awesome.” The program’s low student/teacher ratio allows instructors the flexibility to “stagger the [teaching] events so that if we have a student working with a patient model, we don’t have all 14 students seeing patients at the same time,” says Kistenberg.

Research seminars that provide the foundation for each student’s capstone project begin in the second semester of the program, and continue over three semesters. Students participate in research opportunities with seasoned scientists in several disciplines within the School of Applied Physiology to complete their capstone projects. For example, the Cognitive Motor Control Laboratory, led by associate professor and neuroscientist Lewis Wheaton, PhD, is researching motor learning in people who use upper-limb prostheses to determine if their strategies in using their prostheses occur more similarly to using a tool or to using their natural limb. Students can also study locomotor adaptation to use of a lower-limb orthosis or prosthesis in the Comparative Neuromechanics Laboratory, directed by biomechanist and mechanical engineer Young-Hui Chang, PhD.

The culmination of the students’ research is the presentation of their work in a scientific poster and in an oral presentation. Aside from letter grades, select capstone projects receive meritorious awards based on the quality of the presentation and its scientific content, as well as the clinical relevance to O&P practice. One benefit from the method of delivery, Kistenberg says, is that students establish the skillset and confidence to deliver research presentations that will carry over into their careers.

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

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