Orthotists and prosthetists (also referred to as O&P professionals) are designing medical support devices, and measure and fit these to their patients. These highly specialized devices include artificial limbs (such as arms, legs, hands, or feet), braces, and all sorts of other surgical or medical devices.
Orthotists and prosthetists are required to have a master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics. These master programs include various courses in topics such as spinal orthotics, lower and upper extremity prosthetics and orthotics, plastics and a variety of other materials.
These master’s degree programs include also a clinical component where students will work under the supervision and direction of a specialized O&P professional, and practically all programs require clinical experience of no less than 500 hours, split equally between prosthetics and orthotics.
Most master’s degree programs take 2 years for completion, and applicants may hold a bachelor’s degree in any other discipline as long as they have completed prerequisite courses in mathematics and science, but requirements may vary by program and school. To see if this direction is a great option for you, take a free career quiz.
Orthotist-Prosthetist professionals typically conduct interviews and evaluate their patients’ needs, and measure them to be able to design medical devices. They are designing orthopedic and prosthetic devices in accordance with physicians’ prescriptions.
They will be taking a mold of their patient’s body part that needs to be fitted with an artificial limb or brace, and select the proper material(s)s for the device, and they need to test, fit, and/or adjust the devices on their patients. It is their task to instruct their patients on the best way to use the devices and how to take care of them. They will be repairing or updating the orthopedic and prosthetic, and will document delivered care in their patients’ records.
Orthotists and prosthetists may be working in both the orthotic and the prosthetic fields or they can be specialized in one field. Orthotists are professionally trained to design and apply supportive medical devices, for example, inserts and braces, whereas prosthetists are trained to design and work with artificial limbs or any other body part.
Some orthotics and prosthetist professionals may develop their patients’ devices, while others are supervising how medical appliance technicians are developing and constructing specific orthotic and prosthetic devices.
Over the next decade, the job outlook of orthotists and prosthetists will grow much faster than the overall job growth expectation, but it is a small occupation group, and the number of jobs will be limited. The baby-boom generation is aging, and this will create a growing need for O&P specialists, as cardiovascular disease and diabetes (more common among aging individuals) are major causes of limb loss.
Additionally, new technological developments will also boost demand for prostheses that enable more natural movement, and older persons will also need more specialist devices such as orthopedic footwear and braces. In 2014, the average yearly income for O&P professionals was around $63,730, though wages may vary depending on geographic circumstances, experience, and qualifications.
Most orthotists and prosthetists are working in offices. Here they meet with their patients and design prosthetic ot orthotic devices. They can work in small, private offices or in larger facilities, and they sometimes work in the shops where the orthotics and prosthetics are made. The majority of these professionals are employed by medical equipment and supplies manufacturers, and health and personal care stores, while some others work at physicians’ offices, hospitals, or government facilities.
There are states that require orthotists and prosthetists to be licensed, but requirements are varying by state.and those states requiring licensure usually also require certification to be able to practice. Most orthotists and prosthetists obtain certification by passing the ABC (American Board for Certification) exam in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics. To be eligible to sit for the exam, O&P professionals are required to complete their master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics, as well as a residency program. Most O&P professionals will get certification anyway, regardless of their state’s requirements.