Rae Buhosky, CPO/L, MSPO, remembers a time she felt she made a difference in a patient’s life.
Her patient, a man with a unilateral transtibial amputation, came to Valley Prosthetics & Orthotics (VPO), in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on crutches about a year after he lost his left leg in a traumatic accident.
The man had not been able to use the prosthesis that had been made for him by another company because it caused so much pain and discomfort, Buhosky says. “To be honest, he looked totally defeated, as if he had already given up on ever returning to a normal life after his accident,” says Buhosky, who could tell her patient was apprehensive about the plan for treatment VPO had prescribed for him. “He probably believed things would be the same as the last time based on what his other prosthetist had told him about the process and their goals for him,” she says. “It broke my heart knowing that this young man had gone through such a terrible experience and that he felt his life would never be normal again.”
Once Buhosky fitted her patient with his new prosthesis, however, she saw a different person. “I could see an instant change in his demeanor,” she remembers. “He stood taller, he spoke louder, and he asked immediately about the plans moving forward.”
The next time Buhosky saw him, he walked into his appointment with a wide grin and carrying his crutches.
Susan Kapp, MEd, CPO/L, FAAOP(D), has worked in O&P for more than three decades. She recalls helping a patient with a transfemoral amputation who had a difficult time navigating the system to obtain a prosthesis. For her, the process of helping him secure a prosthesis that was funded by the state vocational agency was routine. She says her patient was then able to return to work to support his family.
“The reason this has stayed with me over the years is how grateful he was that I, as his provider, helped him with more than just fitting him with a prosthesis,” Kapp says. “He believed that without my intervention he would not have been able to get the care he needed, which included revision surgery and retraining for a new career.”
Alyssa DeAmicis, MSPO, finished her 18-month residency at Allied OP in Bloomfield, New Jersey, in December 2019. She has two exams to pass before she becomes certified, she says. The patient who helped introduce her to O&P has told her countless times that he is grateful to have a second chance and the opportunity to do whatever he can imagine, DeAmicis says. “He has shown me how important this field is, but more so that every patient has the ability to make a difference in their own lives,” she says. “We are just here to give them the tools to do so.”
Though these three women have their own patient stories and career paths, they have at least one shared path: They are part of a growing field of women who are making O&P their chosen profession.
“Within the last decade, more women are entering [O&P] programs and currently account for more than 50 percent of students in some programs,” says Kapp, who worked at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center’s Prosthetics Orthotics program for 34 years. She has been part of the University of Washington’s O&P program for the last three years.
Buhosky, Kapp, and DeAmicis will be the first to say they feel fortunate to be working in O&P. They say they are treated with respect and trusted with much responsibility.
“I am grateful I can speak positively about being a female in this industry,” Buhosky says. “I have made a conscious effort to work with others in [O&P] who want nothing but the best for the future of our industry, regardless of gender of the clinician.”
Kapp’s love of O&P began in college when she roomed with a woman who used a prosthesis. Kapp says her lightbulb moment came when her roommate’s device needed repairs, and she invited Kapp to accompany her to the appointment.
“The prosthetist gave me a tour of the practice and told me about prosthetics and orthotics,” Kapp remembers. “My interest in healthcare and mechanical aptitude was a perfect fit.”
When Kapp graduated college, she immediately went to work in an orthotics practice as a technician while she waited to be accepted to Northwestern University’s O&P program. “I made a lot of metal and leather orthoses and did a lot of sweeping,” she says.
Kapp says her role at UT Southwestern as a clinician, educator, residency mentor, and director has given her the experience to continue to do what she enjoys most— teaching. “At the University of Washington, I am able to focus my attention on the students and develop clinically relevant and engaging curriculum,” she says.
DeAmicis worked as an EMT in high school, when she responded to an accident where a man lost his arm. “Almost a year later he reached out to us to say thank you and to show us his new bionic arm,” she says. “Shortly after learning about what prosthetics and orthotics could offer, I jumped right into shadowing at a local company.”
Buhosky was first exposed to O&P as a college freshman in 2010, when her mother had a spinal fusion procedure. “I knew I always had an interest in healthcare, but after shadowing various healthcare professionals, I still wasn’t feeling a strong pull in any direction,” she says.
Buhosky’s mother sent her an email about VPO that said, “This field looks interesting and right up your alley. You should reach out to them and see if you can shadow sometime.” Buhosky says she followed her mother’s advice and contacted Steven Chu, CPO, who owns VPO. “Seeing Steven’s ability to directly impact and change his patient’s life that day was exactly what I was looking to be able to do in my career,” she says. “I left that day texting my family saying, ‘I think I found what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
THE POWER OF DIVERSITY IN LEADERSHIP
Buhosky, Kapp, and DeAmicis agree that their male coworkers and colleagues have been and continue to be supportive of groups, organizations, and forums such as Össur’s Women’s Leadership Initiative and Women in O&P conferences, and Hanger’s Women in O&P series.
“Highlighting the success of women and missions of various women’s group brings recognition,” Kapp says.
There are ways the O&P profession will continue to increase diversity, the women say.
Buhosky says as the industry continues to evolve, more women will gain leadership roles, which will allow them to have a stronger voice. “It will also change the frequent misconception that our industry is only male oriented, and outsiders will no longer act surprised when women say they are O&P clinicians,” Buhosky says.
Kapp agrees. “As more young people move into leadership roles, I see a change of more tolerance, understanding and inclusion,” she says. A more diverse field will also allow for a deeper pool of knowledge, DeAmicis says. “That will make sure that patient-first care is the number one priority,” she says.
Buhosky, Kapp, and DeAmicis also agree women driven organizations and groups allow for women in O&P to have a place to meet for open dialogue.
Having a forum to discuss issues such as work/life balance is important, Kapp says. “Even in this enlightened time, I still hear stories about limited maternity leave and salary inequity all too often,” she says.
And given that there are many leadership opportunities available industry-wide— don’t be timid or afraid to reach out to colleagues, the women agree.
“Our industry is small and tight knit,” Buhosky says. “If you’re looking to move into a specific leadership position, there is bound to be someone in your network who can help you work toward those goals.”
Kapp agrees and says it’s important to volunteer and network within the profession. Become a student/ residency mentor or an ABC [American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics] examiner, or volunteer to present at conferences, she says. “Get noticed,” she says. “Start with small roles within your state and national organizations. Organizations always welcome help.”
ADVICE TO FUTURE LEADERS
When Buhosky started in the O&P program at the University of Pittsburgh in April 2016, she says she was surprised that her class was composed of 15 women and five men.
“I expected the complete opposite based on my exposure to the industry before school,” says Buhosky, who also has made an effort to get involved in as many O&P-related opportunities as possible. “I have participated in a number of school presentations and career days,” says Buhosky, who started her residency in June 2016 and completed her studies in March 2019. “Young women seeing other women being successful in the industry is the best way to prove to the younger generations that they can have a career in O&P if they wish to pursue it.”
Buhosky and other clinicians at VPO have also volunteered on humanitarian trips to Mexico, Colombia, and other countries. Buhosky calls the experience working abroad “rewarding and life changing,” and recommends other clinicians volunteer for humanitarian efforts locally as well as internationally.
Buhosky, Kapp, and DeAmicis also agree that confidence, compassion, and hard work are a proven recipe for success in O&P.
“Work hard and don’t let your gender separate you and define you,” Kapp says. “You’ll gain respect in your practice based on your clinical abilities, professionalism, and the rapport you develop with your patients. Find a mentor, someone who can be a champion for you.”
Buhosky’s advice is simple, “Go for it. The only limitations are the ones you place upon yourself,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask seasoned clinicians for shadowing opportunities because many of them love sharing their passion for working in O&P.”
Perhaps the best advice? Be who you are, the women agree.
“Be confident, believe in yourself, and act accordingly,” Kapp says.
View the original feature in SPS Xpress