Volunteering in a Prosthetic Practice

A life-changing experience opens an OT student’s eyes to amputee rehab

I decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy not only because of the rewarding experience of helping people get back to their lives and what they care about, but also because the scope of the profession is so diverse — you can implement occupational therapy in almost any setting.

One night, during a particularly busy week of my first semester of OT school, my classmates and I attended a seminar about assistive technology. I was anxious about going, and had no idea what I was getting myself into, but as soon as the seminar began, my perception of the realm of occupational therapy expanded even further.

After my brief introduction to assistive technology, the seminar sparked something in me. I became very interested in the topic, and immediately wanted to know more about the role of an occupational therapist in this setting.

I contacted Ronnie Dickson, a prosthetist at Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates (POA) in Orlando, Fla., and it was decided that during winter break I would shadow at this facility.

Customized Limb Building

I attended POA a few days a week starting in the early morning. Initially I spent a lot of time in the workshop with Dickson, where he handcrafted prosthetic limbs specifically for each patient.

I was mesmerized at the involved and intricate process. I had no idea that so much handiwork goes into building a limb. Each limb is custom-molded and fit to the client’s residual limb.

POA provides full custom fittings and fabrication on site, including customized silicone liner manufacturing, physical therapy, personal training, and massage therapy.

Prosthetics Golf
Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates (POA) in Orlando features wide-open spaces for therapy, a spacious gym, rock climbing wall, private rooms for fitting and measurements, and therapy dogs.

I met people from all over the world who specifically traveled to POA. Receiving or having a limb adjusted can take hours and even be an all-day process. POA features wide-open space to perform therapy, a spacious gym, rock climbing wall, private rooms for fitting and measurements, and even friendly therapy dogs that love to play fetch. prosthetic and orthotic associates

Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates (POA) in Orlando features wide-open spaces for therapy, a spacious gym, rock climbing wall, private rooms for fitting and measurements, and therapy dogs.

While at POA, I noticed that I was a minority — one of the few people who did not have a prosthetic limb. It took me a while to notice, not only because of clinical reasons — smooth gait, full functioning etc. — but also because many patients and employees at the clinic are either extreme or professional athletes.

During my stay, I met professional cyclists, marathon runners, professional rock climbers, ballroom dancers, swimmers, and even a very young karate champion. It was difficult not to leave the clinic inspired and motivated at the end of the day after meeting these amazing people. I realized that disability does not mean limitation.

Building a Rapport

Being a first-year student, my subject matter focuses a lot on establishing a connection with your patient. While watching the patients at POA, I noticed that patient rapport was a top priority.

Not once during my stay did I notice a patient who didn’t want to be there. Every patient knew all of the staff and greeted them like they were old friends and family.

During my first semester, my professors constantly instilled in us the importance of establishing rapport with our clientele. I witnessed this every day, and saw firsthand its vital importance. To deliver the most authentic care, a strong patient rapport is paramount. This is just as important to occupational therapy practice as it is to prosthetics.

POA caters to any level of lower-extremity amputation, including above-the-knee amputation, below-the-knee amputation, knee disarticulation, and hip disarticulation. One fascinating treatment scenario I observed was the calibration and gait training of a patient with double hip articulation prostheses.

Before observing in this facility, the extent of my knowledge of lower-extremity amputation extended only to the leg. Seeing a person with no lower extremity on either side made me realize that with these tools, movement and exploration is virtually limitless. High-end prosthetics enable people to carry out meaningful occupations the best way they can.

Gaining a prosthetic limb means something different for each patient. While prosthetists return the ability to walk, run, and jump again, occupational therapists teach them not only to perform these activities, but also bring meaning back into their lives. Occupational therapists deliver the tools to function both in self-care and in the meaningful activities that define them as a person.

Stronger, Happier Patients

My time at POA was a short but life-changing experience. I learned what it takes to create a successful practice and influence our patients’ lives. Though there was no occupational therapist on site, this experience made me realize that occupational therapy is extremely important for this population. Every patient has their own passions and meaningful activities. Losing a limb is not easy, and can mean drastic changes to their lives.

The majority of clients I met have returned to their daily routines post-amputation. Occupational therapy provides both an important rehabilitation intervention and a preventive measure for this population. Having occupational therapists in this setting can translate to stronger, happier patients with a higher quality of life.

I am grateful to be in a profession in which I can provide that to people. I can’t wait to begin my journey as a therapist so that I too can create stronger, healthier, and happier individuals.