Prosthetics education underwent a number of important changes within the last decade. Accredited programs are only found at the master's degree level. A master's degree in orthotics and prosthetics as well as hands-on training is required for those who wish to practice as prosthetists.
A prosthetics education prepares someone to design, create and fit artificial limbs. The work of a prosthetist is similar to the work of an orthotist, someone who makes and fits orthopedic braces. As a result of their similarities, a prosthetics education is usually combined with orthotics into one degree program. A master's degree in orthotics and prosthetics is required to work as a prosthetist, along with a 1-year residency. During this education and training, students learn about various types of devices and get clinical experience. After completing these requirements, they can take the national certification exam. In some states, a license is required.
|Required Education||Master's degree in orthotics and prosthetics|
|Other Requirements||1-year residency and national certification exam; some states require licensing|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||23% for orthotists and prosthetists|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$64,430 for orthotists and prosthetists|
Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Transition in Prosthetics Education
In 2007, clinical experts and educators in prosthetics and orthotics met with representatives of the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), the accreditation board for educational programs in orthotics and prosthetics. Because prosthetists and orthotists have more responsibilities than ever before and because of advances in science and technology, it was decided that from 2010 onward, no new undergraduate programs would be accredited. Entry-level programs would only offer master's degrees. It was further decided that all current accredited undergraduate programs must be replaced by master's programs by 2012 at the latest.
Education Requirements Prior to 2012
Prior to 2012, there were two accredited approaches to prosthetics education. The first was a bachelor's degree either in orthotics and prosthetics or in health sciences with a prosthetic option. The second was a post-baccalaureate certificate; this could be earned in prosthetics, orthotics or a combination of the two. After students received either the degree or the certificate, a 1-year residency approved by the NCOPE was required. This was followed by a national certification examination through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC).
Education Requirements Beginning in 2012
Beginning in 2012, all accredited programs should be at the master's level. As early as 2009, transition programs were created for those who had already earned a bachelor's degree or certificate and were working as prosthetists and orthotists. These shortened programs result in a Master of Science in Orthotics and Prosthetics.
Entry-level master's programs also appeared by 2009. Courses required in these programs include such topics as anatomy and physiology, neuroscience and neuroanatomy, prosthetics and orthotics materials, prosthetic management of upper and lower limbs, gait pathokinesiology, histology and research. A 1-year NCOPE-approved residency is still required, followed by the ABC national certification exam. Some states also require a license.
While prosthetics education used to include options for a bachelor's degree or certificate program, entry-level master's programs are now the norm. These changes were made due to modern advances in science and technology and the resulting increase of responsibilities for today's prosthetists.