First-years: young and restless

Accommodating first-year students studying to become a prosthetist might be exciting, but it is also a great responsibility.

When the university sends us first-year students, we are always a bit excited. What makes first-years so special is that they have had little contact with patients, doctors and the workings of a private practice. Basically, you start with a clean slate. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously.

We’re their first contact with what the practice is really like and we have a responsibility to help mould them into capable practitioners. Respect, sympathy, integrity, honesty, punctuality, humility, empathy and self-discipline are among the qualities we try to teach them. To say “Pardon me?” and not “Hey?” when you can’t hear what someone is saying is usually only repeated a few times, then it is fixed for life.

To mould a young mind into becoming an artist, an engineer, a psychologist and a marriage counsellor while keeping in mind that tomorrow really belongs to them – so you can’t break their sprit or derail their enthusiasm – is not always easy but it is always fulfilling, and we sure laugh a lot! One first-year student, Amilia van Niekerk, shares her experience of her first few days:

“I wake up from my alarm with a pounding heart! Today I start working at a practice as a first-year practical student. I’m extremely nervous and don’t know what to expect at all. I’m sure I am mentally and physically prepared for this day, but then later it turns out I was not!

“Every day is a whirlwind of patients and qualified practitioners coming and going, working on this and that. I am asked to hold this (yes, it was very heavy) and to bring them that (no, I did not know what the thing was). I cannot distinguish one tool from another and I don’t know whether a ‘Molly’ is a tool or a person.

“Turns out you use it when riveting, so definitely not a person. To break the tension, I try to crack a joke, but no one is laughing. Each day I learn various new skills and methods. I also learn that I’m definitely not as smart as I thought I was. This is a different ball game. The six months studying at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) didn’t quite prepare me for reality.

“I suppose that is exactly why TUT sends students out for practical stints. Every day is a hard practical and mental session, but I know it will pay off. All I can say is that this career is not for someone who is afraid of hard work!”


Heinrich Grimsehl is a prosthetist in private practice and a member of the South African Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (SAOPA). email:

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