Tech Launches New Degree Program in Orthotics and Prosthetics

Georgia Tech's School of Applied Physiology this fall debuted the nation's only two-year master's degree program in prosthetics and orthotics.

The University System of Georgia's Board of Regents approved the new master's program at its June 2002 meeting. During the same meeting, the Regents also approved the re-naming of Georgia Tech's former Department of Health and Performance Sciences to the School of Applied Physiology. The school remains a unit within Georgia Tech's College of Sciences.

Faculty in the School of Applied Physiology study the science of movement and the physiological basis of movement control. They also offer instruction related to the importance of maintaining sound physiological systems.

"Our approach to these tasks involves every biological level utilizing both basic and applied sciences," said Professor Robert J. Gregor, chairman of the School of Applied Physiology. "For example, attempts to understand how molecules transmit signals in skeletal muscle have a foundation in basic molecular biology and, ultimately, these relate to the applied science of movement control."

Faculty interests within the school range from the behavioral to the systemic and molecular levels. At the undergraduate level, the school instructs all Georgia Tech students in their health and wellness requirement and offers a Certificate in Health Science, which addresses student interest in basic medical science education.

At the graduate level, the School of Applied Physiology is home to the new master's program in orthotics and prosthetics. It represents a close collaboration among faculty and students within Georgia Tech's Schools of Applied Physiology, Electrical and Computer Engineering and Biomedical Engineering.

"We expect the fall 2002 class size to be about six or seven students," Assistant Professor Mark Geil said. "Plans are in place to increase the class size to a maximum of 12 students during the next few years."

The school's research into prostheses and orthoses, or braces, encompasses a wide variety of medical devices and techniques. These include prosthetic legs, braces for scoliosis, powered myoelectric prosthetic arms, knee-ankle-foot braces and HALO devices for spinal immobilization.

Geil said that many economic studies predict a severe shortage of qualified orthotics and prosthetics practitioners in the near future -- professionals who will serve the needs of the nation's aging population. Georgia Tech addresses this need by taking a fresh approach to prosthetics and orthotics education, one that goes beyond the educational methods that have been in place for years.

"Our students will experience real prosthetics and orthotics practice first-hand and at an aggressive rate throughout their experience at Tech," Geil said. "They will learn the potential for computer-aided design and manufacture in prosthetics and orthotics, and will be conversant in the clinical literature. Our aim is to produce the finest clinicians, researchers, designers and educators in the industry."

Other prosthetics and orthotics programs in the United States offer either baccalaureate degrees or post-baccalaureate certificates, Geil said. But Georgia Tech's program will be the only active, master's-level program available in the country.

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