Following their didactic training, students in the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program in the School of Health Professions at Baylor are required to complete an 18-month residency, where they provide care to patients under the supervision of a preceptor. Students are able to explore residency opportunities around the world. For two students, that took them half way across the globe.
Lauren Kells and Meredith Roehrs, both third-year students in the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program who will graduate this December, share their experiences of completing their residency training in Tanzania in this Q&A.
What made you interested in studying orthotics and prosthetics?
Roehrs: I taught anatomy and physiology at the college level and have always had a love for morphology (the way humans and animals are shaped) and its relation to function. My desire in teaching at a community college was to help people achieve their goals and help them in their journey to get wherever they wanted to go, but I decided that I would prefer to help people on a one-on-one basis. As a career change, orthotics and prosthetics allowed me to 1) work with people one on one, 2) work with people trying to achieve their goals of mobility, 3) improve people’s lives, 4) create beautiful and functional devices while working with my hands and 5) work with altered form to increase a person’s function in the ways they desired to change their lives. O&P is a fantastic blending of science, art, humanity and function to improve the people’s lives around you.
Kells: I wanted to work in medicine for as long as I can remember but I was not sure in which discipline. When I was in undergrad I had the opportunity to go to Cape Town, South Africa, and do an internship in an inpatient pediatric orthopedic hospital. I was able to see the whole process from intake, to surgery, to rehab and was first exposed to prosthetics and orthotics. I went home and realized it was something I could do as a career and began preparing to go to grad school. O&P allows me to combine my love of medicine and my biomechanics background into a career where I get to work directly with patients, be creative and make devices.
What have you learned from your experience in Tanzania and how can you apply it once you return?
Roehrs: I have learned so many things about myself, our field, the challenges posed to the O&P field in a developing country and new ways to be creative. One of the most useful things I learned was to remember to include older technology in my consideration for my patients. It is very easy to be distracted by the shiny new offerings of the various manufacturers; however, the older technology often offers functionality that is just as good as the fancy stuff, without the price tag of ‘advancement.’ I learned some older socket-fit techniques that may not be as common in clinics here, but are great options for all types of patients. I now appreciate more fully other people’s cultural differences in their desire for devices that look anatomically like a sound limb. And finally, on a personal note, I learned how your upbringing shapes your outlook on productivity and how this drives me during a given day, work week, weekend and with time management of myself and others.
Kells: The biggest skill I learned was problem solving. O&P is a lot of problem solving in the first place but at the hospital in Tanzania there wasn’t the same technology we are privileged to have in the States. An issue would come up that we might see in the States as well but we would have to figure out a way to solve the issue with different tools or materials than we were used to. In O&P no two patients are ever completely the same, and different approaches to a problem and unique solutions can make a big difference in a patient’s care. I am going to take my adaptability and problem solving skills with me to benefit my future patients. Outside of O&P I learned to live in the moment and seize the opportunities I had. When you are living in an unfamiliar place I think it can be easy to retreat and not embrace what is going on around you. I tried to take every opportunity I had to do something new such as spending four days climbing a 4,500 meter mountain, go to a goat BBQ at someone’s home, roast coffee beans, eat questionable street food, go to a Swahili music club, visit a tannery, and along the way met some incredible people.
Anything else you’d like us to know?
Roehrs: It is important to be able to step outside of yourself and your comfort zone. This gives you perspective on your world, how you interact with the people around you and how other people’s views or perspective are different from your own. As a healthcare professional it is important that we can understand where our patients are coming from and where they want to go, which is much harder to do unless you can see the world from their perspective. It is also important to understand the health care system in which you are operating and how this affects patient care. Baylor College of Medicine’s O&P program gives us a unique opportunity to experience 6 different residency sites, giving us more experience with different systems, office sizes, office staff, clinical practice techniques, and different patient populations. I am truly grateful for the experiences I have had in the O&P Program and am a better clinician for the variety of practices and situations I have been able to work within, both in and outside of the United States.
Kells: One of the biggest things I learned about trying to institute new technology in a developing country is it takes time. Unless you live and work in a place for a while, it is hard to understand their needs and how they might use this technology. It also takes time for individuals and institutions to adapt to change and it is important to develop a system that integrates the technology into the existing workflow. Educating those who will be using a new technology and finding a champion who is committed to using the technology and teaching others also helps adoption.