We’re delighted to announce a new series here at the Collegiate Gateway blog: interviews with professors across a wide swath of disciplines about their work, why they chose it, and what it’s like to do it day after day. Our first participant, Wendy Beattie, CPO, FAAOP, is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Prosthetics and Orthotics Center. She graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Yale University, decided she wanted to use her background to design products that would directly help people live fuller, more productive lives, and so returned to study prosthetics at UCLA and orthotics at Northwestern. Ms. Beattie was in clinical practice for 25 years and has served in many leadership positions within the profession, including serving as President of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists. Dissatisfied with the availability of opportunities for the patients she worked with, Beattie founded a non-profit foundation to provide fitness equipment and training for individuals with physical disabilities. She was recently recognized for her contributions to the profession this year as the recipient of the Titus-Ferguson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Please describe your work.

Orthotics and prosthetics involve direct patient care. We evaluate, design, sometimes fabricate, fit, and deliver custom prosthetics (artificial limbs) and custom or custom-fitted orthotics (braces for the body). As a faculty member at Northwestern, I am involved in teaching Master’s students these processes. This includes didactic lessons on materials, anatomy, pathologies, practice management, insurance and legal issues in addition to teaching actual prosthetics and orthotics. Since the only way to learn how to fit these intricate custom devices is to have students actually fit them, there is a considerable clinical component, with students evaluating patient models and designing orthoses and prostheses for learning. I am involved in research to evaluate the efficacy of what we do to hopefully to improve patient outcomes and serve as a mentor on student research, teaching the next generation of professionals how to critically evaluate literature in order to preform evidence-based practice.

When did you first suspect that you wanted to work in this field? That is, when did you first fall in like—or love?

Oh, it was most definitely love! I was entering my senior year in college and needed to complete a design project for my degree. I toured an orthotics and prosthetics department of an area children’s hospital and fell in love. Here was a field that would enable me to use so many of my skills and desires: problem solving, interacting with a wide range of people on a daily basis, working with my hands, making a difference. I have been in this profession for 35 years and I have never been disappointed or bored.

What qualities do you think make students most likely to enjoy and succeed in your classes, and to pursue studies in your field?

Excellent communication skills: do you like meeting and talking with people? Good hand skills: do you like to build things, or use tools? Good problem-solving skills: do you like games or puzzles that require you to be creative?

If you weren’t a professor, what job would you have?

I would most definitely go back to orthotics and prosthetics patient care! Thirty years in practice and I can honestly say I was never bored. The profession is continually challenging and evolving.

What’s the best book in your field you’ve read recently? What’s the best book you’ve read recently for pleasure?

My Stroke of Insight, by JiIl Bolte Taylor, is a memoir by a neuroscientist (brain researcher) who had a stroke. I just finished Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years, a novel about friendship, love, and our ability to create the lives we want.

Thank you to Dr. Wendy Beattie for participating in our Q&A series! Getting to know professors at your school is an important part of the college experience and can help you decide on your best college fit in the college admissions process. Explore the upcoming presentations on our website or set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services. Whatever your question, Collegiate Gateway is happy to help!