Prosthetics and Orthotics

Prosthetics and orthotics are the devices designed to improve the mobility and livelihood of individuals with physical impairments. Read on to learn more about the career overview, salary info and education requirements for careers in prosthetics and orthotics.

Is Work in Prosthetics and Orthotics for Me?

Career Overview

Orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) technicians work with devices such as replacement limbs, supports and corrective shoes in order to help a person who has a physical deficiency. The first step in construction of such an apparatus is obtaining a cast pattern or digital image of the device that is to be created. After you know what you are making, you use a variety of tools and materials, including electronics, to construct the device and cover it with a textile such as plastic or leather. Sometimes O&P technicians finish the product with a color that matches the patient's skin tone.

O&P technicians also test, maintain and repair the devices to make sure they continue to work properly. As an O&P technician, you'll work in a laboratory and won't interact with the public. You'll need to be comfortable using your hands and working with hand and power tools.

If you'd like a role interacting with patients and providing care, you can also become an O&P practitioner, which requires additional training. As a practitioner, you'll perform many of the same functions as technicians, but your advanced knowledge can allow you to carry out patient assessment, develop a treatment plan and work with other members of an O&P team to create custom-fitting devices. Other health professionals, like physical therapists and chiropractors, sometimes assist or diagnose patients who use these types of medical devices.

Employment Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job opportunities for medical appliance technicians, including orthotic and prosthetic technicians, would increase by 6% during the period from 2012-2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). The demand for O&P technicians was expected to come from an increasing occurrence of certain diseases causing limb loss in the aging population. The BLS projected that O&P practitioners could expect a 36% rise in available positions, physical therapists would see a 36% increase in job openings and chiropractors would have a 15% increase between 2012 and 2022. The 2013 median yearly income for orthotists and prosthetists was $62,970, and medical device technicians earned $35,540, while physical therapists earned $81,030 and chiropractors earned $65,300.

How Can I Work in Prosthetics and Orthotics?

Undergraduate Education

You need a high school diploma to become an O&P technician. High school courses in math, wood shop, drafting and computers can be helpful. On-the-job learning is the most common form of training for O&P technicians, but employers may give preference to applicants who have some formal training in prosthetics and orthotics. You might consider earning an associate's degree in orthotic and prosthetic technology. This program can offer courses in spinal orthotics, extremity orthotics and femoral prosthetics. You may also have to complete an internship before you can graduate. You should be aware that there are very few programs accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), so you may have to move to another location in order to enroll in a degree program.

Graduate Education

Starting in 2012, you will need to complete a master's program to become an O&P practitioner. You can start your education with a bachelor's degree program in orthotics and prosthetics. After you complete a bachelor's degree, you can take part in a year-long residency program. Next, you can take an exam to become certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics. A master's program in prosthetics and orthotics trains you to assess and treat patients who need these kinds of medical devices. Course options for O&P graduate students may include biomechanics, human anatomy and transtibial prosthetics.

Licensure and Certification

Some states may require licensing based on certification for prosthetic and orthotic professionals. Some may choose to pursue certification even when it's not required, to enhance employment prospects. You can check out which states require a license and what it takes to become licensed.

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