Certified Orthotist Career and Certification Facts

Orthotic practitioners have the design skills necessary to create braces, corrective shoes and other devices for people with degenerated or underdeveloped legs, feet and spines. As an orthotist, you'll help people walk and function using targeted orthotic mechanics and technologies. Keep reading to learn about degree programs, licensure requirements and certification options for orthotists. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Orthotist?

An orthotist designs devices that increase the function of a patient's limbs and spine. They also fit these devices to specific patients and educate patients on the correct use of their appliances. The devices they work with include braces, supports, inserts and corrective shoes. They are closely related to prosthetists, who build artificial limbs for patients missing an extremity.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 5,940 orthotists and prosthetists employed in the U.S. in 2010. At that time, these professionals earned an average annual salary of $68,930. The largest number of orthotists and prosthetists worked in the medical equipment manufacturing industry (www.bls.gov).

What Education Is Required?

As of February 2012, the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) accredited bachelor's, postbaccalaureate certificate and master's degree programs as well as residency programs. You'll need to complete an accredited program and participate in a 1-year residency before meeting the eligibility requirements for mandatory licensure or optional board certification.

Bachelor's degree programs generally teach you about both orthotics and prosthetics. Some course examples include biomechanics, clinical methods, upper extremity prosthetics and spinal orthotics. These programs also include a required number of lab hours and a clinical rotation.

You can enroll in a postbaccalaureate certificate program if you have a bachelor's degree in a field other than orthotics or prosthetics. These programs typically last one year and include NCOPE-required coursework and clinical practicums. Classes in these programs cover topics in orthotic materials, fitting and design processes, gait analysis and spinal orthotics.

Master's degree programs require approximately two years of study and are the most common academic option. In these programs, you'll take courses in kinesiology, gross anatomy, biomechanics and orthopedic pathology. You'll also participate in the necessary practicums and internships mandated by NCOPE.

What Are Licensure Requirements?

To become licensed to practice as an orthotist, you'll generally need to complete a certificate or degree program and participate in a 1-year residency, both accredited by NCOPE. Some states might administer their own licensure exams, though several use national certification examinations to test your competence in the profession. You'll usually need to meet continuing education requirements to renew your license, though the renewal period varies by state.

How Do I Become Certified?

Voluntary certification is available through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics. To become certified as an orthotist, you must graduate from an NCOPE-accredited orthotist certificate or degree program, complete your 1-year residency and pass written, simulation and practical examinations. You can become credentialed in orthotics or both orthotics and prosthetics. You'll need to renew every five years by completing 75 hours of continuing education credits for a single discipline or 100 credits for the dual-discipline credential. Failure to meet your continuing education requirements result in a 1-year suspension of your credential (www.abcop.org).

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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