University Slated to Add New Program

The stars have aligned and Salus University is at the forefront of growth and advancement in the health sciences with the addition of an Orthotics and Prosthetics (O&P) which is slated to have its first cohort of students in Fall 2022. The University’s newest of 18 programs will fall under the auspices of the College of Health Sciences, Education and Rehabilitation (CHER).

“The development of this program has been something that the University leadership has been exploring for quite some time,” said James Konopack, PhD, dean of CHER.

“We’re going to have students who come in under the guidance of a leader in the field, in a brand new facility, and in a market that demands these services. And, in a place where students can’t get this type of graduate education within the region.”

O&P lab renderingOrthotics involves precision and creativity in the design and fabrication of external braces (orthoses) as part of a patient’s treatment process. The orthosis acts to control weakened or deformed regions of the body of a physically challenged person. Prosthetics involves the use of artificial limbs (prostheses) to enhance the function and lifestyle of persons with limb loss. The prosthesis must be a unique combination of appropriate materials, alignment, design, and construction to match the functional needs of the individual.

It has indeed been a long planning process to bring O&P to Salus. University officials looked at several different areas of potential growth and found only 13 O&P programs nationwide. In addition, a majority of the people now in the O&P profession are nearing retirement. “The one thing we paid particular attention to, though, was the future demand for orthotics and prosthetics,” said Salus president Dr. Michael H. Mittelman. “Unfortunately, because of the epidemic we have in this country of obesity and subsequent diabetes, we also know that the number of amputees in the country has been going up and is projected to go up even more. That obviously creates a need for people to have prosthetics, which drove us to the conclusion this would be a skill set to which people will need to be trained.”

prosthetic limbWhen the Salus O&P program starts, it will become the 15th nationwide Master of Science program. East Tennessee State University plans to open an O&P program in the Spring of 2022, which would be the nation’s 14th program. But outside of O&P programs at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Hartford, Connecticut, there isn’t any other competition for O&P training in the Northeast.

An important fact is that the O&P program will complement some of the existing programs Salus already offers. “Our optometry model and our audiology model — particularly clinically — really works well,” said Dr. Mittelman. “We think applying our model to this kind of program will not only differentiate us, but will also enable us to develop providers that will be well-positioned to practice this profession well into the future, which is what is going to be needed.”

Dr. Konopack agreed. “Certainly this is part of the growth of our recently combined college (CHER) at the University. But it’s also not so different from what we’ve already been doing. We have experts in fields like rehabilitation and occupational therapy that really lend themselves to some synergy with an O&P,” he said. “We have Occupational Therapy (OT) faculty who are experts in hand function. So someone in the field of prosthetics might work very closely with an OT in that sense.”

But there is still a lot to be done to get the program ready for students at the start of the next academic year. Work has begun on renovating facilities at the University’s Elkins Park, Pennsylvania campus, funded by a $750,000 Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant with matching funds from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; student and faculty recruitment is already under way; and the curriculum is under development.

A lot of that work has fallen to the new director of the O&P program, Chad Duncan, PhD, CRC, CPO. Dr. Duncan arrived on campus in September after serving as the director for the past three years of the prosthetics and orthotics (P&O) program at Northwestern University, which boasts the longest-standing P&O program in the nation.

O&P lab renderingAmong all the “first things” he’s trying to do is getting to know the community and the region, something he considers a big piece to the success of the program.

Other “big pieces” alongside the establishment of the curriculum is the creation of an interdisciplinary model within the University and hoping to get to an initial class size goal of 24.

“Even the Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program is pulling from those educators and the collaboration between faculty and students is really important,” said Dr. Duncan.”That will allow our students to be better clinicians when they go out into the field, to have more confidence and interact with people in other allied health professions.”

Although it’s a lot of work, building a new program from the ground up is an attractive addition to the University’s diverse health science program offerings.

“Taking off my administrator hat, one of the things as a scientist and a scholar, it’s cool to learn all about this field as we are recruiting and building and growing the interest and support for the program,” said Dr. Konopack. “It’s really exciting from an administrative perspective because here’s an opportunity for us to bring more and diverse services into our fold and increase the portfolio of programs that we offer.”