Since 1821 the United States has periodically considered very seriously the adoption of metric systems of measurement, but in spite of many efforts to convert to a metric system the so-called English system is still very much in evidence. In all the world there are only 13 countries* which are neither metric nor committed to metric. Of these 13 only the United States can be considered to be an industrial nation, and it therefore seems obvious that, for the United States to compete in the world market, conversion to the metric system is mandatory.
Business men and engineers believe that it is only a matter of time before complete conversion is made, the only question being whether it will be carried out unofficially and haphazardly or will it be done officially and orderly. Several bills for the development of a plan for conversion were introduced in the last session of Congress but none was passed into law, probably because of the high priority given other proposed legislation. No doubt, some of the bills will be reintroduced during the current session, and eventually some scheme for adoption of the metric system will be agreed upon.
In anticipation to eventual adoption of the metric system and to meet international competition a number of the U.S. companies and organizations have begun programs of their own. Nearly all pharmaceutical products are marketed in metric units. Some manufacturers of anti-friction bearings and earth-moving equipment have either converted or are in the process of conversion. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration for three years has been using metric units in its various publications.
When can we anticipate some action within our profession, or what stimulus or motivation will cause our members to embark on the change to the metric system? Unfortunately a great number will not take the initiative on their own until some outside influence gives them a push. One possibility of a logical and meaningful beginning lies in the educational centers whose orthotic and prosthetic graduates would help "break the ice" as they enter and work in the field. A second, but a longer range inducement will come when materials and tools are supplied in metric sizes.
Over the past decade the members of AOPA have shown that they are capable of accepting change as we develop professionally through acceptance of innovations, new techniques, college requirements, and professional practices. Metrication is just another new challenge that we should recognize as a facet of our advancement. It will not be complicated or expensive. The initial problem will center around creating familiarity or a frame of reference between inches and centimeters. For example, prosthetists can immediately visualize a stump size or length when an inch dimension is given. Circumferences in the range of 13 in. to 15 in. indicate a child size above-knee stump, but 33 centimeters to 38 centimeters would leave us cold in this respect.
The answer lies in recognizing the inevitable and begin now to introduce the system to our personnel. Let's start by taking all patient measurements in metric and writing articles and reports with metric references. Combination tapes and rulers are readily available with both systems imprinted which should facilitate the learning process.
AOPA must be prepared for the inevitable conversion, and as part of this, a table of units and conversion factors will appear in each issue of Orthotics and Prosthetics for at least the next two volumes, so that each practitioner will have a ready reference when he is called upon to think "metric."
*Barbados, Burma, Gambia, Ghana, Jamaica, Liberia, Muscat and Oman, Nauru, Sierra Leone, Southern Yemen, Tonga, Trinidad, United States.