Teaching the Next Generation
Who will be on the front line of prosthetic-related care in the years ahead? We recently caught up with prosthetist Arthur Graham, Branch Manager and Clinical Manager of our Newton, Massachusetts office. Arthur has been teaching in the area of assistive technology, prosthetics and orthotics) as part of the six-year DPT (Doctorate in Physical Therapy) program at Northeastern for fourteen years. We talked about patient care, the connection between physical therapy and prosthetics in holistic care for prosthetic clients and how the future looks for individuals interested in these disciplines.
You teach as part of a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) program. Does Northeastern offer a prosthetics degree?
“They don’t. In fact, the closest institution offering a degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics is the University of Hartford. In the U.S., there are less than 10,000 certified prosthetists and nearly 250,000 physical therapists. I can tell you that, with an average practitioner age of 50+, there will be a considerable need for more certified prosthetists in the years ahead.”
Why are there so few prosthetists?
“As you can imagine, physical therapy is much more well-known and physical therapists work in a number of settings, but prosthetists are vital to the care of amputees and limb difference individuals. The demand for both specialties is projected to be strong. Although prosthetics is lesser known, with projected attrition and our current health crises (diabetes and other health issues), the need for certified prosthetists is only going to increase.”
Tell us a little about the differences between your area of prosthetics and physical therapy.
“Actually, while there are key differences between the two, there is a strong link between prosthetists and physical therapists. A prosthetist fits the limb to the patient and then refers the individual to a physical therapist to work with them on the mobility and physical skills they need to navigate their lives. Once referred, a physical therapist will often work with the prosthetist to make fit and comfort adjustments. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”
How did you get involved in prosthetics?
“As an undergraduate in Scotland, I found biology was not for me and was able to transfer into the Orthotics and Prosthetics program at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. It was the perfect fit. After completing my residency and working for ten years, I moved to the U.S., and that brought me to Next Step.”
What have you gained from teaching these students?
“I feel I have gained the ability to make the world of prosthetics accessible to our “cousins” in the PT world. While not every student is going to be interested in what I have to say, being able to reach the majority of students in my class and help them understand the key factors in treating patients with limb loss gives me a sense of satisfaction.”
Tell us more about the care approach at Next Step.
“I have always admired Next Step’s commitment to patient-centered care and relaxed environment. We’ve found no two patients are the same and care needs to be individual and customized. Matt [Albuquerque] understands the importance of a strong relationship between prosthetists and physical therapists and has actively fostered that connection. We are one of the only facilities that has physical therapy in the same building as well as both referring outside and holding clinics in physical therapy facilities. An example is our weekly clinic at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital where we focus on addressing the unique needs of individuals with limb loss.”
What qualities do you think predict success in the patient care area?
“Something so important to understand in working with patients is the “e-motion” component. I believe the ability to listen so patients feel “heard” and effectively managing expectations are key to a successful outcome in patient care. The physical part can be straightforward, but the ability to connect positively with a client makes a tremendous difference in their attitude and engagement.”
Do any of your physical therapy students express an interest in prosthetics?
“There are some key differences that draw some students to prosthetics. As a physical therapist, your average interaction with a client is perhaps 4-6 weeks. As a prosthetist who works with fit and comfort, you form a relationship that can last a lifetime. In life, circumstances don’t stay the same. Whether it’s a knee replacement or other change, the complex equation between the prosthesis and user periodically needs to be evaluated. I have maintained a relationship with some of my patients decades after their initial fitting. I always extend an open invitation for my students to visit Next Step, especially those who may be interested in a subspecialty in prosthetics. Out of the hundreds of students in my classes, normally about 25 will come and see what we’re about.”
To learn more about Arthur, check out this previous blog post.