This special edition of the JPO was developed to address contemporary issues in orthotics and prosthetics education. By providing this information, we hope to stimulate discussion on ways that education programs can best meet current and future demands of orthotic and prosthetic practice. In the last two decades we have seen tremendous change and growth in health care, particularly in the professions of orthotics and prosthetics. At the same time, there have been numerous developments in the delivery of education programs for health professionals. New technologies in health care and education and modern students with different requirements all pose a challenge for the future of orthotic and prosthetic education.
Historically, orthotic and prosthetic practitioners were skilled craftsmen. With the development of technology and health care practice, formal education in orthotics and prosthetics with outcomes assessment became a necessity. Today, the increasing amount of information in orthotics and prosthetics and a team-oriented health care environment require advanced education initiatives. The model of the “traditional” student has changed. Adult learners and students who are changing careers are increasingly the norm in the classroom. These “new” students bring a richness of experience to the classroom as well as different learning styles requiring innovative teaching strategies. To effectively attract and reach these new students, it will be increasingly necessary to use new information technologies including on-line education and distance learning. The increasing amount of material available in health care is a constant challenge for both student and teacher. Integrating a problem-based learning strategy in health professions, education teaches the student how to utilize the wealth of information now available to develop a critical appraisal and treatment plan. This strategy develops skills necessary for evidence-based practice and life long learning in a complex health care environment. As we develop these new learning strategies, ongoing outcome evaluation will be essential. With outcome evaluation, it is possible to assess the effectiveness of new programs and teaching strategies.
Although these technologies can be used to assist the practitioner and the teacher, they cannot replace the hands on experience and sensitivity to patients' needs, which are the hallmark of excellence in orthotic and prosthetic practice. Integrating new strategies in contemporary education programs is the challenge that must be met as we move ahead in the 21st century. Hopefully, the articles in this special edition will generate interest, ideas, and discussion supporting the continuing development of our professional education programs to meet the demands of contemporary orthotic and prosthetic practice.