A Conversation With Glenn Garrison

In this issue, O&P News poses five questions to Glenn Garrison, CPO, director of prosthetics and orthotics at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Garrison, a North Carolina native, graduated in 1980 from New York University (NYU)’s Prosthetic and Orthotic program. He became a certified prosthetist in 1981 and a certified prosthetist-orthotist in 1983. He began working at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in 1987; previously, he served as production manager of Eschen Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratories in New York and as technical consultant for Northeast Paramedical Industries, also in New York.

Garrison provides lectures, in-services and training programs to physicians, nurses and therapists throughout the HSS/New York Presbyterian Hospital. He has been involved in research projects on topics including osteoarthritis, robotics, 3-D printing and injury prevention through the HSS Motion Analysis Laboratory.

He is a member of the O&P News Editorial Board and in the past has served as a residency director for the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education, a facility surveyor and an examiner for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) and a Boston Brace course instructor. Garrison is also the chairman of the Procurement Subcommittee for the Foundation of Orthopedic and Complex Spine (F.O.C.O.S.) in Accra, Ghana and has attended six medical mission trips as a volunteer orthotist. He has volunteered as an orthotist and prosthetist at the Orthopedic Training Center in Nsawam, Ghana and is a faculty member of the P&O Training Program there.

Locally, Garrison is a board member for the Englewood Board of Education in Englewood, N.J., and served as president for 2 years. He also has been a board member of the South East Senior Center for Independent Living since 2013. In addition, Garrison has volunteered and worked with a number of local charities, including Englewood Little League, Englewood Soccer Association, Greater Bergen YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, CROP Walk, Flat Rock Brook Nature Center, First Presbyterian Church, Inter-Religious Fellowship and Englewood Junior Raiders Football.

Glenn Garrison, CPO

O&P News: What was the defining moment that led you to your field?

Garrison: During my junior year of high school in 1974, the United States was in the midst of a horrible recession with runaway inflation and more than 10% unemployment rates. I was beginning to think about what I was going to do with my life. How was I possibly going to find a career upon graduation from college? What was I going to study? On my way to my part-time job after school, I heard a radio program where they interviewed someone, I do not remember who, from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The gentleman discussed prosthetics and orthotics, the career opportunities, the shortages in education programs and the ever-increasing demand for trained practitioners. Having a disabled person in my family, it did not take long to figure out that this was the career for me.

O&P News: Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

Garrison: I worked for Fred Eschen, CPO, as an O&P resident right out of NYU. He owned a family-run practice in New York. Fred was a wealth of experience and knowledge in the O&P field, both as a clinician and as a colleague who helped found and shape many of our professional organizations such as American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association and ABC. He was a rough and hard-nosed New Yorker on the outside but a brilliant practitioner and O&P problem-solver on the inside.

O&P News: What area of research in O&P interests you most right now?

Garrison: I am fortunate to work in a facility that has a dedicated research team, motion analysis laboratory and a host of allied health professionals with whom I may collaborate. We continue to study osteoarthritis (bracing) as the affected population continues to grow as baby boomers reach retirement age. We are also looking into foot orthoses and shoe modifications as prophylactic devices to prevent future injury, the effects of footwear on the developing foot architecture in children, and the effectiveness and efficacy of 3-D printing in orthotics. I have a budding interest in using alternative materials in the fabrication of O&P devices. Each is these areas of research has a widespread impact on society. They either help reduce pain and suffering, prevent future injuries or help us rethink our roles in the health care spectrum and how we deliver care in the future.

O&P News: What advice would you offer O&P students today?

Garrison: Work hard to become fundamentally sound. Every component on every prosthesis or orthosis has a purpose and function. Make sure you know what that purpose or function is. Do not do anything if you cannot explain why you are doing it. I have worked with technicians who could build a better limb or brace, but they could not tell me why they were building it. That is the difference between a technician and a practitioner. Also, never underestimate the importance of proper footwear on a lower extremity device. The best-made prosthesis or orthosis may be rendered useless if not coupled with the correct footwear. Understand and appreciate the relationship between the device and the shoe.

O&P News: What is next for you?

Garrison: I am not sure what is next. Changes in health care delivery are inevitable, and we are at the threshold of major changes, the likes of which we have never seen. Survival as a profession, I feel, will depend on a number of factors such as:

  • our ability to prove our value as part of the health care continuum;
  • our ability to partner and cooperate with other allied health professionals to provide a comprehensive package/program of services;
  • our ability to “right size” the services we provide with the needs of the patient. This includes device selection and expertise of patient care staff;
  • our ability to “value price” our services;
  • our ability to provide services across a large geographical area. This will require partnerships, consortiums, cooperatives, etc.; and
  • our ability to be creative and flexible.

I have the opportunity to work in a health care system that is exploring and experimenting with numerous delivery models. It is a scary time but also a fascinating opportunity to think outside the box. I have come to realize that the future of O&P depends less on the new widget or computer interface and more on the delivery systems and models we come up with to actually get our services and devices on our patients in an efficient manner. We can either wait for the health care system to determine our future, or we can collectively be proactive and help shape what the future will look like. Helping define the future of O&P, at least in my small world, is my next great challenge.

Disclosure: Garrison reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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