Prosthetics is the replacement of a lost limb with a prosthesis, an artificial limb that helps restore patients' mobility or function. Prosthetics technology degrees combine medical engineering technology with the study of human anatomy. Graduates of an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree program in prosthetics are prepared to design or fabricate the prostheses patients need to comfortably walk, run or perform everyday activities. These programs can also be found at the doctoral level. Undergraduate programs teach students how to measure for, manufacture and fit a prosthetic device through labs and internships, while students with master's degrees can work as certified prosthetists, designing custom devices for clients. Master's degree programs include a residency requirement.
Associate's Degree in Prosthetics
Students in a 2-year associate's degree program learn the skills necessary to help make custom-fit prosthesis, from taking the initial measurements of a patient's limb, to materials selection and fabrication. Students complete courses in the classroom as well as in on-campus fabrication laboratories. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED with at least three years of study in math and science to be admitted into a college or university's health technology program. Students must also meet minimum ACT or SAT score requirements.
Coursework focuses on building prosthetics for amputations above and below the knee or the upper extremities. Some programs may include an introductory course in pedorthics, where students learn to build braces or shoe inserts to stabilize the foot and ankle. Many associate's degree programs require students to complete an internship before graduating. Possible course offerings include the following:
- Prosthetic materials
- Arm and hand prosthetics
- Leg and foot prosthetics
Bachelor's Degree in Prosthetics
Additional topics covered in the bachelor's degree program include applied kinesiology, the study of how the body's joints and muscles affect a patient's gait. These courses allow prosthetics majors to examine how a prosthetic's components compensate for the loss of a limb by assisting with balance or shock absorption. Students are also able to assess a prosthesis' fit and effectiveness. Advanced techniques in manufacturing, such as casting and socket fabrication are also discussed. A GED or high school diploma is required for admission to a bachelor's degree program. Some schools require that applicants complete courses in anatomy, physiology and physics before being admitted to the major.
In addition to basic courses in physiology and anatomy, topics of study range from patient care to billing procedures. Internships are required of students in the 4-year program as well. Other course offerings may include the following:
- Exercise physiology
- Upper extremity prosthetics
- Lower extremity prosthetics
Master's Degree in Prosthetics
A graduate program in prosthetics prepares students for entry-level clinical positions as prosthetists. Prosthetists work closely with patients to design the right prosthetic for their needs by performing consultations, fittings and an assessment of the finished product. Some programs give students the opportunity to prepare for careers in prosthesis design and development or teaching. Requirements for these specialties include clinical practica that focus on prosthetics for children, adults and seniors. A 12-month residency is also required and allows students to practice in the area of their choice. Degree candidates gain hands-on experience in patient consultation, pain management, patient fitting and the psychological assessment of patients' coping with the loss of a limb. Some schools require that master's degree entrants have a bachelor's degree in prosthetics and orthotics. Others require that students have taken courses such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry and physics in their undergraduate program, regardless of their major. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores are also required for admission.
In addition to courses related to the fabrication of a prosthesis, students also discuss topics in data analysis, medical ethics and patient care. Core coursework consists of the following:
- Materials science
- Gait analysis
- Computer aided design
- Exercise science
Popular Career Options
Graduates of an associate's degree program find entry-level careers as technicians who assist prosthetists, doctors or physical therapists. Graduates can also find jobs making and repairing prosthesis in a laboratory. Some of the most typical job titles are listed below:
- Prosthetics technician
- Prosthetics fitter
- Pedorthics technician
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Like graduates of the associate's degree program, students who complete a bachelor's degree in prosthetics are prepared for positions as prosthetics technicians or fitters. These employees, also referred to as medical appliance technicians, earned a median annual wage of $34,890 in May of 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected 23% job growth for orthotists and prosthetists through the ten-year period of 2014-2024. Prosthetists may find themselves employed by prosthesis manufacturers, veterans' hospitals or physicians' offices. In May of 2015, orthotists and prosthetists earned a median annual salary of $64,430.
Continuing Education Information
Graduates with a bachelor's degree can enter a 12-month residency program certified by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE). These programs allow students to gain experience at hospitals, clinics or prosthetics manufacturers. Upon completion of a residency or two years of work experience, graduates are qualified to sit for the certification examination administered by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ABC). Successful candidates are awarded the professional status of certified prosthetics technician
Since graduate programs require students to complete a 12-month residency program as part of degree requirements, prosthetics graduates are also qualified to sit for the ABC examination to become certified prosthetists. For those seeking continuing education, doctoral degrees in biomedical engineering, applied physiology or rehabilitation science are among the options available.
Over the course of a degree program in prosthetics, students will learn how to make and design prosthetics with various levels of expertise. Those who earn master's degrees will have the opportunity to enter a residency program that will prepare them for a certification examination in the field.