You might guess that a career in food service is a long way from a career in Prosthetics – and you would be more or less right. For Clay Claiborne, owner of Claiborne Prosthetics and Orthotics in Charlotte, North Carolina, working in the family restaurant business was as far as one could be from his career of the past 20 years, and yet it was a foundation that served him well.

When Clay was feeling the need to do something different, the one commonality that he knew he wanted was the immediate feedback that comes from service. Just like serving a good meal and seeing the customer smile, Clay knew he thrived on the immediacy of knowing you made the customer happy.

His then-girlfriend (and now wife) encouraged Clay to check out the field of Prosthetics by trailing her brother who worked in fabricating and fitting Orthotics and Prosthetics. Clay was hooked. He knew this was what he should be doing with his life. But he had no personal experience with prosthetics to lean on and no formal medical training.

Like the patients who inspired him, Clay had to remain determined. It wasn’t an easy path. At that time, there were only four university programs available in the U.S. and three immediately turned him down due to his lack of medical experience. He had to prove it wasn’t a necessity for success.

California dreaming became the pathway to his future. The University of California at Domingo Hills accepted Clay and he began what would become a seven-year process toward becoming an American Board Certified Prosthetist (ABC). He never gave up. He was just that certain that this was what he wanted to do.

Now 12 years into having his own independent practice, Clay has witnessed hundreds of individuals picking themselves up with that same determination he and all in the O&P field uniquely understand.

To Clay, that determined persistence validates his long-held view that prosthetic and orthotic services involves more than a medical – or even an insurance – point of view. It is as much about counseling and understanding loss. It is about having empathy for the patient. He worries about the pressure on doctors and insurers that may result in a more sterile interaction that loses sight of that important sense of empathy for what the patient is going through, without enough time to really listen.

Says Clay, “It is important to listen to the patient and their loved ones and answer as many questions as possible. We like to talk with them before the surgery. I tell them not to look at the top of the mountain but to look at those first, small goals and take baby steps first.”

Clay’s focus on the patient also means keeping up with the latest service and product advances. Over the years, he has witnessed significant changes in technology, both in after-care and on the front line, wherever that may be for each individual amputee. The circumstances that brought them to amputation differ and their acceptance of limb loss is also very individual.

Addressing the limb loss of members of the Armed Services, for example, Clay said, “Unfortunately, while the factors behind war are always debatable, the impact of war is a fact of life. The one thing that has changed significantly is the ability for combat personnel to treat and live with that impact. The result is more living amputees than ever before.”

Clay has also witnessed first-hand the critical and changing impact of insurance.

“There are tough decisions to be made every day in the healthcare field. If everyone would give a little and collectively reign back, it could really make a difference for all,” he said, “Of course, that’s not likely to happen. Right now, reimbursements are going down while technology is going up.”

Yet Clay admits the stakes are changing. Insurance companies are already asking for the data that is now becoming more available. He predicts insurance companies will continue to want more monitoring and will eventually pressure doctors to use that data more when making care decisions.

Clay was recently introduced to UNYQ and the integrated, wearable technology that can be embedded within UNYQ’s fashion-forward scoliosis braces. He likes what he saw and predicts that type of data collection will make all who work in Prosthetics and Orthotics better practitioners. Better because it ultimately meets the needs of the patient better.

Clay puts his belief in the powerful combination of technology and empathy to work in his practice every day. In addition to the direct patient services he and his team provide, he also invited a nonprofit called Promise Resource Network to reside within his building at minimal cost. This special organization offers full counseling, nutrition and other important services to individuals “at the end of their rope,” so to speak.

That’s just another example of Clay’s dedication to servant leadership – born in the family restaurant – and serving him well in the service of others, in a career he loves. For Clay, a career in O&P is like the perfect meal, serving up just what the patient – and the practitioner needs – every day.