W. Clint Snell, CPO, may be past retirement age, but he loves his job too much to leave. Snell, who is 70 years old, is president of his family’s pioneering O&P business, which celebrated its centennial 5 years ago.
“When I do retire, I will ease into it,” Snell said. He is head of Shreveport, La.-based Snell’s Orthotics and Prosthetics, which his dad, Jim Snell, started in Louisiana in 1938. “I will continue to do a lot of volunteer work in the community and work with several disability organizations.
“I will still come in regularly, but probably a little later, and I might leave a little earlier. But I am going to continue as long as I enjoy the work.”
It is hard to imagine Snell’s passion ever flagging. He oversees the Shreveport office and branches in Monroe, La., and Alexandra, La. “I grew up in the business,” he said.
Practitioner and patient
Snell’s grandfather, R.W. “Pop” Snell, founded the company in Memphis, Tenn., in 1911. W. Clint’s father decided to start his own facility and migrated to Shreveport. W. Clint represents the third generation in the Snell family to head the firm.
Snell wears a leg brace, the remnant of a childhood bout with polio. He was 8 years old when he contracted poliomyelitis, often called infantile paralysis because many patients were children. Polio vaccines were not yet widely available.
“I contracted polio in ’52,” he said. “I went through numerous surgeries, bracing and therapies.”
Snell shed his leg braces in 1960. But post-polio syndrome requires him to wear a stance control KAFO on his right leg.
“I have more empathy [for] my patients because I have been there and am living it every day,” he said. “Also, when patients see I am wearing [a brace], their attitude is different.”
Seeing patients was not Snell’s first job in the family firm.
“I started working part-time, in junior high and high school, doing odd jobs like filling casts,” he said. “When I graduated from high school, I had to decide which direction I wanted to go — the regular college route or into O&P training. I enjoyed what I had experienced in the business and decided to go into O&P.”
Snell packed his bags and headed west for a 2-year residency program at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif., where he graduated with a certificate in orthotics. He also received an associate’s degree from Cerritos Junior College in Norwalk, Calif.; a certificate in prosthetics at the University of California at Los Angeles; and a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University-Shreveport.
Immersed in O&P
Snell has journeyed to 26 countries and studied prosthetics at nine of his destinations abroad.
“I have never thought of another career,” he said. He joined Snell’s Orthotics and Prosthetics full-time in 1966 and received certification from the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) as an orthotist-prosthetist in 1971. Today, Snell is a business owner, practitioner and educator.
In 1971, he was named an ABC examiner and helped write the National Certifying Exam for practitioners. In 1975, he began a 5-year tenure on the ABC Examination Committee.
From 1978 to 1980, Snell was as an American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA) regional director and national board member. He is still active in AOPA and in the International Society of Prosthetists and Orthotists.
Closer to home, Snell helped start the Louisiana Association of Orthotists and Prosthetists (LAOP), serving as the organization’s first president from 1991 to 1993. He completed a second 2-year term in 2003. Also a board member, he has been the meeting coordinator since LAOP was formed.
Snell has served as an honorary member of the Louisiana Occupational Therapy Association and as a past president and board member of the Louisiana Rehabilitation Association. He has served on the state Department of Health and Hospitals Committee on Healthcare Reform and is a former secretary and treasurer of the Louisiana Governor’s Statewide Independent Living Council. He was founder, chairman and vice chairman of the PrimeCare Orthotic and Prosthetic Network. In addition, he taught O&P classes at Shelby State Community College in Memphis, Tenn.; Louisiana Rehabilitation Services’ Academy for Counselors; Delgado College in New Orleans; and at the Louisiana State University School of Allied Health Professions, Shreveport branch.
Advocate for change
Snell has been an O&P advocate at state and federal levels. He helped convince the Louisiana State legislature to pass a measure to accredit O&P facilities. In addition, he worked to get insurance fairness regulations passed in the state.
Nationally, he has been active in the AOPA Legislative Forum and O&P Political Action Committee efforts and has championed patients and the profession through his membership in the National Rehabilitation Association and the National Council for Independent Living. In 2011, AOPA recognized him as the Ronney Snell Legislative Advocacy Award honoree. The award is named for his cousin.
All the while, Snell has seen his profession evolve from providing cumbersome wooden legs and mostly metal and leather orthoses to strong, lightweight and wearable limbs and braces made from space-age plastics. In addition, he has witnessed a seismic change in the field from mostly limb and brace makers who learned their craft through what amounted to apprenticeships to a greater emphasis on academic training.
He said the 1970 founding of the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists (AAOP) highlighted the need for patient-centered care and increased academic standards.
“That was the beginning of a path to increased professionalism,” he said. “The advent of modular components in prosthetics and the use of plastics in orthotics was another major change. Prosthetically, microprocessors and computerized and energy-storing capabilities are other milestones.”
Looking to the future
Snell said computerization has revolutionized the profession, and not just in the design and crafting of orthotic and prosthetic devices.
“We are using computers to compile data and track our patient care. I think that is bringing us into higher levels of professionalism and better quality of patient care that will provide proven outcomes,” he said.
Snell also said that business practices must keep pace with improvements in orthotics, prosthetics and patient care. “It is equally important to have a sound foundation in business principles and financial management. We need to pay closer attention to the business end of things now.”
He said government regulation of the O&P profession “has gone through a mega shift, one that requires that we engage our patients’ outcomes measures and personal stories to show the value and quality of life that we provide.”
Snell knows many of his patients. “We have long-term relationships with all of our prosthetic patients and a lot of our orthotic patients who have a long-term need for complex or custom orthotics.
“It is not unusual for a patient to have a family garden, bring in sacks full of vegetables they have grown and share them with us. We find out about those patients in depth and know about their families and what kind of problems they have. That relationship is the key to having a successful business.”
Though retirement is not on Snell’s immediate horizon, he has a successor. His 35-year-old son Christopher Snell, BOCP, is the company’s project manager. He joined Snell’s in 2007, and will represent the fourth generation to carry on the family’s business and tradition.
It is a case of “like father, like son,” according to the company president. “He grew up in the business, too, and I feel he shares many of the qualities my father exhibited,” Snell said. “Chris has a solid feel for the business end of things, along with exceptional technical skills.”