Although nestled in a relatively small field under the healthcare umbrella, certified orthotists and prosthetists are more than mighty, especially to those they serve. No one knows this better than Arkansas-based Snell Prosthetics & Orthotics. A family-owned company, Snell is now in its fourth generation of operation with President & CEO Frank Snell at the helm.
With such a considerable history in the Natural State, the company is not only entrenched in the community but also dedicated to training the next generation of prosthetic and orthotic specialists. For the past two decades, Snell has intermittently offered a prosthetic and orthotic residency program and is currently the only active one in the state.
The motivation for offering the program is two-fold. “There is a shortage of manpower in our field like there is in all professions these days and our residency program is a useful recruiting tool,” Frank says, “but it’s also a form of giving back to the profession.”
Snell supports both residency program tracks – the 12-12 model as well as the 18-month dual program. “We’re not just providing a residency – it’s a true employee-employer relationship. These are paid positions,” says Frank.
Echoing this sentiment, current and recent residents note the invaluable experience they gained at Snell.
Tristine Lam began the program in 2022 on the 12-12 track and considers her experience thus far to be overwhelmingly positive. “I think Snell really provides beautiful mentorship for me and for incoming residents,” she says. A Texas native, Tristine grew up with a love of building things, which eventually led her to prosthetics and orthotics. She recently finished her first 12 months in orthotics and is beginning her next 12 months in prosthetics.
Snell’s commitment to adopting and adapting to innovative technology resonated with Tristine, motivating her to move to Arkansas for the program. “The AquaFit System is a great way to really get a true fitting,” she says, “that kind of new technology mixed with the really traditional ways of doing things that have worked over the years – it’s really incredible to see how that combined makes a robust company.”
Tristine loves the pace of the job, which changes day-to-day depending on whether she’s scheduled to see patients, do fabrication work, or get a fitting just right. Plus, she’s proud to be a part of the team at Snell. “Working with the other residents, as well as the seasoned practitioners – we have a lot of fun in the lab and I feel a real sense of camaraderie and closeness with them,” she says.
Mississippi-born resident Bailey Brown was initially interested in Snell’s residency program because of the company’s roots. “I really liked that it was family-owned-and-operated,” she remembers. After doing a tour and learning that Snell works with pediatric patients as well as adults, she was ready to make the move to Arkansas.
Bailey started the program in 2021 and was in the process of finishing up her second year of the 12-12 track at the beginning of 2023. During her time in the program, she has been blown away by the amount of knowledge she’s gained by working with seasoned practitioners. “They are the ones that bridge that gap of, okay, this is what the textbook says, and this is how you’re going to do it,” she says.
She’s loved gaining real-world experience while also gaining lifelong friendships not only with her patients but also with her fellow residents. “I would say we’re all super close,” she says smiling, “we call ourselves the girl gang […] it’s very collaborative.”
Cara Bray – a former resident now operating as a fully certified orthotist, prosthetist at Snell – reflects on her educational and professional journey.
Arkansas-born and raised, she already knew she wanted to work in the healthcare field. “I was actually going to school for biomedical engineering,” she says. “I found out that prosthetics and orthotics could meet with the healthcare field, and I could work with patients, specifically.”
She heard about the residency program at Snell and told her parents about it. Her dad gave her Frank Snell’s contact information, but Cara was nervous to reach out.
“I probably sat on it for two weeks because Frank Snell is the owner of Snell Prosthetics and Orthotics and that’s extremely intimidating,” she says, laughing.
“By the time I called him, he talked me through everything. I went to school, knowing that my goal was to end up back at Snell in Arkansas.”
After becoming certified in 2021, Cara says patient relationships keep her going. She’s also been surprised by how much she enjoys working with each new class of residents. “I see my patients, but I also get the relationships in the background. I get to help bridge that gap between school and residency and what it looks like in the patient room,” she says.
Like Cara, Sean Dineen has completed the residency program, becoming a fully certified prosthetist, orthotist in 2022. He currently works as a practitioner at Snell’s North Little Rock office.
Sean came to the company via a different path. As an Arkansas native, he first learned about Snell through a college assignment.
“I was getting close to graduation and I had to write a paper on a company I could see myself working for,” he says. Sean had his sights set on talking with Frank Snell because the family-owned prosthetic, orthotics company caught his eye. “By the time I was done interviewing him, it turns out, he was interviewing me, and he offered me a job,” he says. He took it, and it wasn’t long after that Frank approached him about going to school.
Even though Sean hadn’t planned on getting a master’s degree, he decided to consider it, as it would help him move up in the field. He left the state to obtain his degree before starting the residency program – with his end goal of working with Snell in mind.
The first time Sean worked on prosthetic devices for an individual from start-to-finish, and was able to improve that individual’s life, he knew he was in the right place. “I was just like, man, anything that makes me feel like this is worth spending my time doing,” he says. “I get to go play around at work and it doesn’t feel like work every day. It’s pretty nice.”
Beyond the mentorship, educational training, and tight-knit camaraderie offered at Snell, the residents both current and recent, have found Arkansas to be a hidden gem – whether from the area or not.
“The majority of us are outdoors people,” Sean says. “But it’s just a beautiful state. It’s called the Natural State for a reason.”
“People around Arkansas are super kind and genuine,” says Bailey. “Everyone says hello and someone’s always willing to help you out.”
At the end of the day, Snell’s residency program presents an opportunity to work with a leader in the field and gain real-world knowledge. But perhaps a better reason is that Snell puts the patients first.