The field of orthotics and prosthetics is one way to help people with physical challenges. Depending on the level of education you want to obtain, you can become either an orthotist or prosthetist practitioner or a technician. A prosthetist or orthotist program includes courses on human anatomy, plastics and materials, and the different kinds of orthotics and prosthetics.
The field of prosthetics and orthotics involves designing and fitting artificial limbs or braces. It is a component of the health care field, and individuals working as either an orthotist or prosthetist usually must be certified and licensed. Becoming an orthotist or prosthetist requires the completion of a master's degree in Orthotics and Prosthetics with certification or licensing required in some states, while becoming a medical appliance technician may only require a post-secondary certificate or associate's degree with certification or licensing being required in some states. If you are interested in helping people with their mobility then these may be the careers for you.
|Career||Orthotist or Prosthetist||Medical Appliance Technician|
|Education and Other Requirements||Master's degree with certification or licensure*||Post-secondary certificate or associate's degree recommended|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||23%||10%|
|Average Salary (2015)||$69,960||$39,020|
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Orthotist or Prosthetist
Although related, the work of a prosthetist and orthotist is not the same. A prosthetist designs, creates and fits artificial limbs on patients who are missing a part or all of a limb. An orthotist, on the other hand, fits braces and other devices to enhance the movement and function of a patient's limbs or spine. An orthotist/prosthetist can make and fit both prosthetics and orthotics. The American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists states that, regardless of whether they work only in one area of the field, most practitioners are referred to as 'O&P Practitioners'.
To work as an orthotist or prosthetist, an individual must graduate from an accredited O&P program and complete a 1-year residency, after which the individual may sit for the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics exam. Board certification is available in either or both fields and is required in order to practice as an orthotist or prosthetist.
Orthotist and prosthetist practitioner degree programs are available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. However, the National Commission on Orthotics and Prosthetic Education has recommended that all degree programs be at the master's degree level as of 2012.
Topics covered in a bachelor's degree program include human anatomy and physiology, spinal orthotics, biomechanics and clinical pathophysiology. These programs also usually include clinical rotations and a senior capstone project. Master's degree programs include courses in plastics, materials and processes, gait analysis, anatomy, kinesiology and neuroscience. These programs include lab work, clinical rotations, capstone projects or exams.
Certification or Licensure
Certification is available through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) via an exam. Currently, 13 states require O&P practitioners to become licensed; requirements and processes for licensure vary between states. A listing of state licensure requirements can be found at the ABC's website (www.abcop.org).
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, in 2015, there were 7,100 orthotists and prosthetists in the nation, and these professionals earned a mean annual salary of $69,960 (www.bls.gov). Furthermore, according to the BLS, between 2014-2024 there will be a 23% increase of orthotist or prosthetist positions.
Orthotics and Prosthetics Technician
An orthotics and prosthetics technician works under the supervision of an O&P practitioner to fabricate and maintain orthotic or prosthetic devices. Technicians are not generally trained in providing direct care to patients.
Certificates and associate's degree programs are available for individuals interested in working as an orthotic, prosthetic or orthotic and prosthetic technician. The length of these programs differs depending on the field of study. Courses cover topics like orthotic and prosthetic equipment and human anatomy. Orthotic programs also provide instruction in upper and lower limb, clinical and spinal orthotics. Prosthetic programs provide instruction in transtibial, transhumeral and transfemoral prosthetics.
The BLS places orthotics and prosthetics technicians in the category of 'medical appliance technicians'. In May 2015, according to the BLS, there were 14,640 medical appliance technicians in the nation. Figures from the BLS show orthotics and prosthetics technicians earned a mean annual salary of $39,020 in May 2015. Between 2014 and 2024 there will be 10% increase in these jobs, the BLS stated.
Orthotist and prosthetist practitioners work in designing and fitting artificial limbs to help their patients with limited movement capabilities. Orthotist and prosthetist technicians assist the practitioners in maintaining and creating the devices. Technicians require only a certificate or associate's degree program to work, while an orthotist or prosthetist needs a master's degree as well as certification.