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How to Become a Professional Orthotist: Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a professional orthotist. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in orthotics. View article »

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  • 0:01 Become a Professional…
  • 0:34 Career Requirements
  • 1:31 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 1:48 Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree
  • 2:27 Step 3: Complete a Residency
  • 2:43 Step 4: Obtain State Licensure

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Video Transcript

Become a Professional Orthotist

So you think you might like to become a professional orthotist? Orthotists use prescriptions from orthopedic doctors and measurements taken from patients to design and fit corrective braces, inserts, and supports. These devices are used to straighten, support, or assist in healing a patient's injured or congenitally disabled limbs, appendages, or spine. Protective equipment might be used when working with certain types of materials used to make orthotic devices.

Career Requirements

So what are the career requirements?

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Orthotics and prosthetics
Licensure and Certification Some states require licensure; voluntary certification is available through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Pedorthics (ABC) and the Board of Certification/Accreditation, International (BOC)
Experience One-year residency required for certification
Key Skills Problem-solving and communication skills; physical stamina and dexterity; attention to detail; patience; ability to use computer-aided design, computer-aided manufacturing, word processing, database, spreadsheet, computer graphics, and accounting software; knowledge of various tools and equipment
Salary $64,040 per year (Median salary for orthotists and prosthetists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; iSeek.org; American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Pedorthics; State licensing statutes; Board of Certification/Accreditation, International; National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Prospective professional orthotists can complete a bachelor's degree program in any major, though choosing a program with a math or science emphasis, such as biology, bioengineering, or kinesiology, may best prepare them for post-baccalaureate education.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Programs specifically in prosthetics and orthotics are available at the master's degree level. As of 2015, there were 13 accredited programs in prosthetics and orthotics nationwide. Students who plan to obtain certification should choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

These programs are typically two years in length and include courses in biomechanics, rehabilitation technology, and orthotic and prosthetic management for various extremities. Master's degree candidates also complete one or more clinical experiences, and they might take part in research activities.

Step 3: Complete a Residency

Certification as an orthotist requires completion of a 12-month NCOPE-accredited residency. Through these clinical training programs, residents gain hands-on experience in various settings under the supervision of professional orthotists.

Step 4: Obtain State Licensure

As of 2015, 17 states regulated the practice of orthotists. Though licensure requirements vary by state, they typically include earning board certification. To sit for ABC's Certified Orthotist (CO) exams, an orthotist must have proof of graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited orthotics and prosthetics program and completion of an NCOPE-accredited residency program. The exams include a three-hour multiple-choice exam, a three-hour examination consisting of clinical simulations, and a practical examination to assess the candidate's clinical and patient management skills. Candidates have a three-year period to take and pass all three exams.

Certification for orthotists is also available through the Board of Certification/Accreditation, International. Applicants for BOC's Orthotist-Certified (BOCO) credential will need a degree in orthotics and prosthetics from a CAAHEP-accredited program. They'll also have to provide proof that they've completed an NCOPE-accredited residency. BOC also requires completion of three certification exams, including multiple-choice, clinical simulation, and video practical exams.

Success Tips:

Earn continuing education credits. CE credits are required to maintain both ABC and BOC certification. Over the course of five years, certified orthotists must complete a minimum of 75 CE credits in a combination of scientific and business practice training.

Consider voluntary board certification. Orthotists who plan on practicing in states that don't require board certification might consider earning one of these designations to improve their employment prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, certified orthotists have an edge in the job market, since the credentialing process requires applicants to demonstrate their training and expertise.

Complete a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a residency, and then obtain state licensure are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as a professional orthotist.

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