Arlene Gillis, CP, LPO, MEd, FAAOP
Arlene Gillis, CP, LPO, MEd, FAAOP, with soldiers.
Arlene Gillis, CP, LPO, MEd, FAAOP, has worked in orthotics and prosthetics for 22 years. She helped to open the J.E. Hanger College of Orthotics and Prosthetics at St. Petersburg College and serves as its program director. With Arlene as director, the program has begun granting master's degrees through a consortium with Florida State University.
She hopes that her involvement in various O&P boards and committees has an impact not only on promotion of the profession, but the patients and families who it serves. Her vision is to encourage communications between educators and practitioners that lead to the creation of best practices. We recently caught up with Arlene to ask a few questions.
How long have you been in the profession?
I have been in the field for 22 years. I worked as an orthotist/prosthetist in a private practice for more than 10 years, as faculty and program director for 10 years, and I currently serve as chair of the National Commission of Orthotic and Prosthetic Education.
What is your education background (college through certification)?
I earned a bachelor's degree in orthotics and prosthetics from Florida International University in 1994. I also completed a master's of education in curriculum and instruction at the University of South Florida, and I'm currently working on a doctorate in education.
Why did you choose this profession?
I became interested in the rehabilitation field when I was very young. My mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and passed away when I was 12 years old. Determined to help other families who suffer with any kind of physical impairment, I pursued a career in rehabilitation and physical therapy. During this time I discovered orthotics and prosthetics. I was given the opportunity to work with prosthetic patients, and it was a phenomenal feeling to assist in their rehabilitation. I loved the fact that I could be part of a patient's recovery, helping them and seeing them walk for the first time.
What has changed most about the field since you first became a practitioner?
The education and standards have changed. The movement to the master's degree level as the minimum educational requirement has had a positive impact on the profession. There have also been changes on the business side of O&P with insurance companies and third-party reimbursements. As a profession, we have seen drastic changes in operational processes between 1992 and 2015.We are now in an era of documentation, which has become key to the success of businesses. The presence of women in the field is more noticeable every year. When I graduated, I was the only woman in my class. Today there is a more even mix of genders.
What has been most satisfying about your decision to go into the field?
Having the ability to affect so many people's lives and to expand that number by helping students grow in the profession and guide them through their studies.
What has been the most frustrating?
The most frustrating is not to be understood by the medical profession. We must have a seat at the table with other allied health professions. Unfortunately our skills are sometimes underestimated by the medical field.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
I'm proud of being part of the development of the career ladder for our profession. The bachelor's program at St. Petersburg College has now grown to offer certificates, a technician program, and a graduate program. I'm also proud of forming a consortium of applied sciences technical programs that received funding from the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant helped establish the tech education program that will launch in August 2015.
If you were speaking to high school or college students, what would you say to encourage them to choose this profession?
I would say that if they have an aptitude in math and science, have good hand skills, and like to help and work with people, this is the perfect career for them. They will make a difference in people's lives.
How has your Academy membership been valuable to you?
It has been valuable in the sense that it gives us the ability to network with other O&P professionals. It also offers to O&P institutions additional education modules through the Online Learning Center.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I have two daughters who I enjoy spending time with as a family. We love to spend time together volunteering for various causes. I'm also teaching my 16-year-old daughter how to drive, which has been very interesting.
What's one thing that people in the O&P industry would be surprised to know about you?
People would be surprised to know that I enjoy building custom homes, beginning with the design, construction, and project management.