An Unconventional Path to O&P

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On August 8, 1997, just before my 12th birthday, a speeding car jumped the sidewalk and crashed into me. I was hit on my left side and suffered nerve damage that resulted in foot drop, which required me to begin using an orthosis and join the many people who rely on orthoses for the rest of their lives. Despite this early exposure to O&P, I only recently began to consider it as a profession or, rather, a calling. The delay had something to do with the negative feelings I associated with my first experience with an orthosis. My accident transformed me from an active, athletic child into a disabled individual, forced to wear a hard plastic AFO.

My perception changed after I got a carbon fiber AFO and met a woman O&P practitioner. While those experiences didn't happen at the same time, both were required for me to realize that becoming an O&P practitioner is what I need to do with my life.

I graduated cum laude from Austin College with a bachelor of arts degree in classical civilizations in 2007, and graduated from the University of Toronto, Canada, with a master's degree in museum studies in 2009. While not a conventional educational path to O&P, I have passion and determination to succeed as I navigate into the profession.

I have broken many AFOs because of box jumps, burpees, and rugby. In August 2015, after I broke one during a rugby match, I made an appointment with Hannah McNinch, CPO, Texas Brace Systems, Southlake, Texas. I had never had a woman practitioner before. She impressed me with her confidence and compassion. During that visit, I began asking her questions about how to become a practitioner. I started shadowing her soon after our first meeting.

My preparation for acceptance into an O&P master's program began in 2015, and included visiting the programs at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas Southwestern, where I toured the facilities, met faculty members, received advice about the application process and strengthening my application, and attended their graduates' research presentations. I took prerequisite anatomy, physiology, and physics courses, and shadowed other practitioners, traveling over an hour to do so. I have also been interning at Strobel & Associates Prosthetics & Orthotics, Plano, and volunteering at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, Dallas. By the time I submitted applications to three O&P master's degree programs, in December 2016, I had 260 hours of observation. In March, I had over 600 hours of shadowing and interning.

I also attended the 2017 annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists in Chicago, at my own cost, for the opportunity to network and meet more O&P professionals. There, I introduced myself to John Brinkmann, MA, CPO/L, FAAOP(D), who is on faculty at Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center (NUPOC), and hoped my determination came across when I met him.

I think my previous education shows I have the stamina to succeed in a graduate program, despite my nontraditional educational background. The greatest difficulty I faced was deciding to go back to school, allocating the money to another graduate program, and taking my experiences as a patient and turning them into something meaningful.

My determination has paid off: I've been accepted into the NUPOC Master's in Prosthetics and Orthotics program. Courses begin July 5.

Kathryn McKenzie can be contacted at .

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