Training comes full circle for Orthotics and Prosthetics alum in post-doc position

Graci Finco’s interest in the field of orthotics and prosthetics started when she was a senior at the University of North Texas. The biology major shadowed physical therapists and scientists while working in a research lab to help her decide what to pursue with her degree.

“I wanted something that had more human interaction but was also a marriage between art and science,” Finco said. “Something I could be creative with, use my hands, but also still in that realm of science and biology.”

Once she learned about orthotics and prosthetics in a class focused on career options for biology graduates, Finco identified a nearby clinic where she could shadow professionals in the field.

“I fell in love with it,” she said.

Graci Finco places a wearable device while talking to Dr. Bijan Najafi.

Graci Finco has a post-doctoral position in the division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.

Finco liked the combination of seeing patients and adjusting their prosthesis while also working in a machine shop to make the prosthesis.

She applied to the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program in the School of Health Professions at Baylor College of Medicine, which had just launched at that time in 2013. She joined the second class of students in the program.

After graduating from Baylor’s 30-month master’s program, Finco was offered a job at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago, which she described as a dream job for a fresh graduate.

She served as the lead lower limb prosthetic clinician in an engineering lab and worked with engineers who made the prosthetic devices. Finco served as the clinician who would fit the patient and ensure that they knew how to use the device.

Though she loved the in-person patient interactions, Finco wanted to focus on research that would benefit the community she served.

During her training at Baylor, she discovered a passion for clinically-relevant research in the patient population. After two years in Chicago, she decided to move back to her hometown, Dallas, to pursue a Ph.D. in structural anatomy and rehabilitation science at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Graci Finco

Graci Finco graduated from Baylor’s Orthotics and Prosthetics program in 2016.

While a lot of the current research in the field focuses on new and innovative engineering technology, insurance typically does not cover these new technologies for patients.

“I wanted to do things that were more in line with what we do know about patient care now and how we can improve patient outcomes now with the technology we currently have,” Finco said.

Finco was advised to create a niche for herself by going outside of the field to bring new perspectives. While it did not directly deal with orthotics and prosthetics, her Ph.D. program allowed her to learn from the best in the fields of anatomy and biomechanics and apply that research to the population she was interested in – people who use lower limb prosthesis.

When considering a post-doctoral position, she followed that same advice which brought her back to where it all started: Baylor College of Medicine.

Finco, who recently passed her Ph.D. defense with distinction, currently works in the lab of Dr. Bijan Najafi, professor and director of clinical research in the division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor. Najafi’s lab focuses on engineering technologies and how to use wearable sensors to predict fall risk in different populations, including patients with diabetes.

Graci Finco

Graci Finco graduated from Baylor’s Orthotics and Prosthetics program in 2016.

The field of wearable technology is only growing, and Finco hopes to take what she learns in Najafi’s lab and apply it to patients with orthotic and prosthetic devices.

“We are so happy to have Graci Finco on our growing team,” Najafi said. “Graci’s expertise is a great addition to expand our research efforts to better understand how people move through and interact with their environment. In this way, we believe we may be able to fundamentally change the way we objectively measure quality of life for people across disciplines, while helping people to retain mobility and independence.”

Finco said the opportunity to connect again with her professors at Baylor and potentially mentor clinical residents as they work on their research projects was a huge draw for her to pursue her post-doc.

“The program helped immensely in shaping my career,” she said.

By Dipali Pathak