Richard Miller, CO, FAAOP
President-Elect, American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists
What does being a Fellow mean to you?
When I first read the Academy’s Fellow program requirements, they appeared very attainable. I had already accomplished many of the requirements at that point in my career. Pursuing the educational steps, however, was among those things that got “moved to the back burner” in the business of life. I did not think about it again until I was elected to the AAOP Board of Directors. When looking over the list of names of those who had achieved Fellow status, I recognized many of the members’ names as practitioners whom I considered purposeful, respected, and energized leaders in our chosen profession. I wanted to be counted among them. The remaining steps for me to achieve “Fellow” involved meeting the certificate program requirements. Again I procrastinated until it was almost too late. The old adage, “You will never find the time to do anything; you must make the time,” rang true. I made the time to do what was important.
Joining the ranks of Academy Fellows represents a personal goal that the Academy helped me to set. I wear my pin proudly and am pleased to explain its meaning to those who don’t recognize the emblem or its significance. I see the Fellow designation not as a one-time accomplishment; I view it as a standard that one should live and exhibit in his or her professional life. To me personally, it represents a goal that was out of reach until I exerted effort and commitment. When I wear the pin, I think of how close I came to not reaching for a goal because of its difficulty.
How did you decide to get into O&P?
In the spring of my 19th year, I toured a new rehab hospital with my girlfriend near her hometown in northern Minnesota. She was going to school as an X-ray tech, and I was thinking about my (our) future. The wood shop in the basement of that hospital sparked my interest until I entered the O&P lab right around the corner. What a great profession! I would get to work with people and make cool stuff! I went home and promptly forgot about it. Fast-forward to the end of that summer when I was looking to enroll in a program near my hometown at what was then 916 Area Vo-Tech (presently Century College). When scanning the available careers, my intention was to be an electronics technician, but then I saw it: orthotics and prosthetics technician program. After interviewing, I was accepted in to the O&P tech program as the final student. Now I’m happy to say I chose a profession that I’ve enjoyed for more than 42 years. And that girlfriend became my wife. We’re approaching our 40th anniversary.
What kinds of things do you like to do outside of the office?
My outside interests include travel, music, and cooking. My favorite modes of travel are often by powerboat, motorcycle, or snowmobile. My preferred music is Delta and Chicago Blues. My musical training all through school was on the Baritone horn, but my instrument of choice is the 10-hole harmonica. It’s so much easier to carry! The cooking styles that I tend to enjoy are Cajun, Mexican, Italian, and stir-fry.
What advice would you offer to those about to or hoping to enter the profession?
As with any life choice, remember that things are not always as they appear. We are all familiar with imagining the end result of any project before we make plans to begin. It helps to organize the tasks at hand and create waypoints to recognize if progress is being made. Likewise, as you enter the O&P profession, imagine the type of person you will be at the end of your career. Do not ask what has happened to you to make you into what you have become, but rather, who have you become in order to make this happen? What characteristics are demonstrated by others who have lived a life you wish to emulate? Perhaps most important is then asking yourself what must you begin doing now to manifest and enhance those personal characteristics in your own life?
What do you believe is the most serious issue facing O&P?
The most serious issue facing O&P is complacency. O&P collectively must earn and exhibit the professionalism that it expects of itself. It’s not enough to believe we deserve professional recognition by virtue of our credentials. Our collective actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately the world often sees the lowest level of performance as the common denominator. Individual complacency will win us all a badge of mediocrity.
There is a need for engagement in the collective challenges that are facing O&P. These issues will continue to exert negative pressure on the profession if we are complacent. It will take all of us to push back. Whether it is a need for conducting more research, improving educational programs, expanding the number of adequate residency sites, becoming a public policy advocate, supporting state initiatives, or providing continuing education, involved people are helping to move the ball forward. One individual can only be of influence if there is some measure of involvement and expression among like-minded people. It is imperative that all of us who consider ourselves professionals act the part and reinvent ourselves if necessary. If we fail to define ourselves, others will do it for us. Who is defining our profession? Who will define you?