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ISPO mourns the loss of Elaine Figgins

Monday 10 August 2020   (3 Comments)
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Photograph of Elaine Figgins at the Standards Development Group meeting for the WHO (2017) Standards for Prosthetics and Orthotics.

Obituary for Elaine Figgins

(courtesy of Sandra Sexton)

We sadly lost our great friend and colleague Elaine Figgins from this world at the end of June 2020 when she passed peacefully in her sleep after a two-year battle with secondary metastatic cancer.

As a tribute to Elaine and her many and steadfast contributions to the field of prosthetics and orthotics, we have reproduced an interview by Sandra Sexton on the occasion of Elaine's early retirement, as published in the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists magazine.

"As a recently retired fellow professional who has made a strong contribution to the development of the prosthetics and orthotics professions and to allied health professions, I was delighted to interview Elaine Figgins. Elaine offers some fascinating insights into her past career and shares some thoughts about the future of prosthetics and orthotics services.
The interview was conducted during an extended period of lockdown in Scotland during the COVID-19 pandemic – a time of significant changes for us all. Elaine’s reflections highlight that that change is inevitable and ever present in our professional and personal lives. She demonstrates that positive change and development can be also be achieved through consistent hard work and years of dedicated service. Elaine’s energy, enthusiasm and passion for prosthetics and orthotics and workforce development comes across through all that she has achieved.

Sandra Sexton: You started as a student Prosthetist/Orthotist in 1986 at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. What attracted you to study the course?
Elaine Figgins: When I left school I originally went to study Medicine however when studying for a resit exam in my second year I sat in the Mitchell Library with a friend’s fiancé Sandra Waddell who was resitting a biomechanics exam - I had never heard of prosthetics and orthotics till then and realised this was the profession for me. Then in 1986 I was blessed to start the programme the year it became a fully-fledged honours degree programme.

Sandra Sexton: In 1990 you graduated with the first First Class degree from the BSc (Hons) Prosthetics and Orthotics. What was your first job?
Elaine Figgins: At that time the average needed to get a first-class degree was 75% and not 70% as is the case now - so I was very happy to get the first First Class honours! My very first job was as an NHS orthotist in Lothian at Princess Margaret Rose Hospital I then moved to work for a company at Belvidere hospital in prosthetics as it was in NHS Glasgow and less of a commute- I loved both jobs.

Sandra Sexton: Your career soon saw you back at the University where you developed your passion for education. What achievements are you most proud of during your University years?
Elaine Figgins: Two new jobs came up at Strathclyde. This was unusual and I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss so I applied. In August 1991 I went back to work at the University clinical site for the next 3 to 4 years with only some teaching and supervising final year clinical placement students. I got to start a new orthotic clinic where the orthotist and orthopaedic surgeon weeks together with final year prosthetist/orthotist students, which in hindsight was a great step forward.
I have many achievements in prosthetics and orthotics that were amazing. Firstly, I was in charge of the design and move from the famous portacabins to the new WestMARC from the University perspective. I then was very proud of the team I got to lead to totally overview and revamp the Strathclyde BSc Hons programme to become the programme it is today and yet maintain its international reputation. That was daunting but a great team came up with the results required (including getting this HCPC fully approved). However, there are many good clinical highlights, especially of children I was privileged to help walk due to lower limb KAFOs. These moments can never be forgotten. I was honoured to be appointed as a senior lecturer in 1996 and then a Reader in 2006.

Sandra Sexton: You are also passionate about your family life! You raised two children while holding down a demanding job at a time when this was quite pioneering in the patriarchal environment of a University in the 1990s. How did you approach this?
Elaine Figgins: When I had my daughter in early 1995, I let Professor John Hughes know and was keen to come back and attend the ISPO World Congress in Melbourne, Australia in April, as I had submitted a paper. He said fine and that was exactly what I did - taking a 12-week old baby and my mother off to Australia to achieve this. I also was on the first BAPO executive committee in 1995 and took my baby to the first BAPO Conference in Telford as an EC member.

Sandra Sexton: Throughout your career you have volunteered in national and international development initiatives. What do you think were the most significant milestones for the professional development of Prosthetists/Orthotists and Prosthetics/Orthotics Technicians?
Elaine Figgins: I have always been passionate about education working with BAPO and ISPO. I have been involved in working on good technician training to a level that would allow a sustainable programme for later generations, which is also really important to me. I was very blessed to travel globally with both Strathclyde and ISPO. It been amazing working across the world with enthusiastic students and staff, not just those in Scotland. I have made amazing friends in the prosthetics and orthotics international community. I became the chair of the ISPO Category I Subcommittee, which was again an honour and never a chore. I was really excited to then be invited to work on the World Health Organization’s Standard Development Group in Bangkok to work on the Standards for Prosthetics and Orthotics alongside user groups and senior P&O people at WHO and other big supporters.
There have been many significant milestones that perhaps at the time you don’t even notice. I wish for all future prosthetist/orthotist graduates that they move forward with their own individual passion to make a difference no matter what is in their power; they have the ability to keep this focus so every day is important. It’s about lots of people making small steps to make a big difference. I believe we should all be kind and try to treat everyone as you want to be treated yourself - that’s what we can all do and our profession will get stronger as we have so many transferable skills.

Sandra Sexton: Your career culminated in working as Associate Director for NHS Education Scotland with involvement in national education initiatives for the allied and nursing professions. What common themes did you perceive across the professions?
Elaine Figgins: In 2016 I decided to leave the university and return to NHS Scotland at the special board for Education, which was become my passion - but with the ability to use this across all AHP professional groups. This was a really strategic position which I also loved - I had a great 4 years working across Education and advising the Scottish Government on direction of travel and good practice. Hopefully many more AHPs in Scotland are aware that prosthetics and orthotics trained professionals have the ability to lead and provide clear long term directions.

Sandra Sexton: Elaine, you are always up to date with current affairs and are perceptive of the forces that shape our world. What changes to you predict will shape the prosthetics and orthotics sector over the next decade? And what would the changes be?
Elaine Figgins: Prosthetist/Orthotist is a great profession with so much more to offer in Advanced and Consultant level practice in areas such as Diabetes and MSK Rehabilitation including amputation rehabilitation in much more detail. These all need documented much more precisely so we can evidence that our practice does achieve what we have known it does, but we need the agreed terms so we that can be counted as we should be".


Margaret Hodge says...
Posted Friday 4 September 2020
Sincere condolences to Elaine's friends, colleagues and the ISPO community. Elaine was a bright and lovely person who made a real contribution to P&O education in the UK and globally. Such a loss. Thank you, Sandra and BAPO, for sharing your interview with Elaine.
Mmomelu S. Chukwuma says...
Posted Thursday 3 September 2020
I never had the pleasure of meeting Elaine but her work and contributions in the P&O Community are outstanding. Her legacy lives on. May her soul rest in perfect peace. Amen
Edward D. Lemaire says...
Posted Monday 17 August 2020
Elaine was an important member of the P&O community and I always enjoyed my conversations with her, on a range of topics. She will be missed.