April 27, 2006

St. Petersburg College Begins New Building

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In just its second year, the St. Petersburg College orthotics and prosthetics program is taking a giant step forward with groundbreaking April 28 for its new 27,000-sq.ft., two-story facility. Target date for completion of the new structure is June 2007.

The new building will be named for the Bankers Insurance Group, headquartered in St. Petersburg, in appreciation for its donation of $500,000, which is being matched by the State of Florida for a total of $1 million. The O&P program is being named the J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics in appreciation for a donation of $250,000 from the Hanger Orthopedic Group Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, which likewise is being matched by the State of Florida for a total of $500,000. The name honors J.E. Hanger, the first amputee of the Civil War, who founded the Hanger company in 1861.

Another exciting development is a partnership with the University of South Florida (USF) regarding an advanced degree program, with more details available later.

Red-Letter Day

The groundbreaking ceremony is a red-letter day for all the organizations and individuals who have worked hard to make the College of Orthotics and Prosthetics a reality, including the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (the Academy), the Florida Chapter of the Academy (FAAOP), the Florida Association of Orthotists and Prosthetists (FAOP), and St. Petersburg College. An honored guest is US Congressman C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), who was instrumental in getting Florida's landmark licensure law for prosthetists, orthotists, and pedorthists passed.

In fact, according to Carl Kuttler, PhD, president of St. Petersburg College, and Sam Phillips, CP, FAAOP, dean of the College of Orthotics and Prosthetics, the licensure law is the main reason the O&P program was created. The law requires O&P practitioners to have a bachelors degree (those already practicing without a degree at the time the legislation was passed were grandfathered in)and there was no four-year baccalaureate program in Florida.

St. Petersburg now fills this void, plus it provides the only baccalaureate O&P program east of the Mississippi River, thus offering educational opportunities for aspiring orthotists and prosthetists in the east and southeast parts of the US. It has become only the fourth bachelors degree program in the country, after the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle; and the California State University-Dominguez Hills P&O program housed at Ossur North America, Aliso Viejo.

The pioneer class of the fall of 2005 comprised 21 students; 24 are expected for the fall of 2006. "We've had 150 applicants already, so it should be a good class," Phillips said. "The demand is certainly there and would allow for future growth when we are able to do that."

The O&P students will share the building with the physician assistant program, which, among other benefits, allows mutual access to an anatomy lab. The facility also will have three didactic classrooms and easy access to an already-existing 150-seat auditorium for instructing a larger group, plus exam and fitting rooms, according to Phillips. The possibility of providing humanitarian and indigent care in cooperation with other organizations also is being considered, Phillips said. Also, the facility with its auditorium access will allow excellent continuing education facilities for practitioners, with a larger group that can break out into smaller classrooms for more detailed instruction, he noted.

The program is currently housed in St. Petersburg College's Health Education Center. Phillips especially noted with pride the varied clinical experience students receive by rotating among different facilities for fabrication experience, pediatric care at Shriners Hospital for Children in Tampa, and private and public centers. An addition housing a motion analysis lab is envisioned for the future.

The $10 million in federal and state funds, plus donations, are providing a solid start to the program, but additional donations and grants will be needed, it was pointed out.

Hotbed of Innovation

Enthusiasm warms Phillips' voice as he describes his vision for the future. "I think the Tampa Bay area has all the unique situations for a hotbed of innovation in orthotics and prosthetics. USF is interested in advanced prosthetic research; the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is bringing in a polytrauma center; and we have the Shriners Hospital. There is such a synergy here of people wanting to do great things in prosthetics and orthotics."

Phillips sees a time when aspiring students can go all the way from high school to a doctorate without ever having to leave the Tampa Bay area. Miki Fairley

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