Orthotists and Prosthetists Do in the U.S.
Orthotists and prosthetists create devices that allow patients to regain or improve mobility and functionality. Orthotists and prosthetists design and fabricate medical supportive devices and measure and fit patients for them. These devices include artificial limbs (arms, hands, legs, and feet), braces, and other medical or surgical devices.
Orthotists and prosthetists typically do the following:
- Evaluate and interview patients to determine their needs
- Take measurements or impressions of the part of a patient’s body that will be fitted with a brace or artificial limb
- Design and fabricate orthopedic and prosthetic devices based on physicians’ prescriptions
- Select materials to be used for the orthotic or prosthetic device
- Instruct patients in how to use and care for their devices
- Adjust, repair, or replace prosthetic and orthotic devices
- Document care in patients’ records
Orthotists and prosthetists may work in both orthotics and prosthetics, or they may choose to specialize in one area. Orthotists are specifically trained to work with medical supportive devices, such as spinal or knee braces. Prosthetists are specifically trained to work with prostheses, such as artificial limbs and other body parts.
Some orthotists and prosthetists construct devices for their patients. Others supervise the construction of the orthotic or prosthetic devices by medical appliance technicians.
Orthotists and prosthetists evaluate and interview patients to determine their needs.
Orthotists and prosthetists held about 9,100 jobs in 2018. Orthotists and prosthetists who fabricate orthotics and prosthetics may be exposed to health or safety hazards when handling certain materials, but there is little risk of injury if workers follow proper procedures, such as wearing goggles, gloves, and masks.
Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.
How to Become an Orthotist and Prosthetist
Orthotists and prosthetists must be precise to ensure that devices are fabricated and fit properly.
Orthotists and prosthetists need a master’s degree and certification. Both orthotists and prosthetists must complete a residency before they can be certified.
All orthotists and prosthetists must complete a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics. These programs include courses in upper and lower extremity orthotics and prosthetics, spinal orthotics, and plastics and other materials used for fabrication. In addition, orthotics and prosthetics programs have a clinical component in which the student works under the direction of an orthotist or prosthetist.
Master’s programs usually take 2 years to complete. Prospective students seeking a master’s degree can have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline if they have fulfilled prerequisite courses in science and math. Requirements vary by program.
In 2016, there were about a dozen orthotics and prosthetics programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Following graduation from a master’s degree program, candidates must complete a residency that has been accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE). Candidates typically complete a 1-year residency program in either orthotics or prosthetics. Individuals who want to become certified in both orthotics and prosthetics need to complete 1 year of residency training for each specialty or an 18-month residency in both orthotics and prosthetics.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Some states require orthotists and prosthetists to be licensed. States that license orthotists and prosthetists often require certification in order for them to practice, although requirements vary by state. Many orthotists and prosthetists become certified regardless of state requirements, because certification demonstrates competence.
The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) offers certification for orthotists and prosthetists. To earn certification, a candidate must complete a CAAHEP-accredited master’s program, an NCOPE-accredited residency program, and pass a series of three exams.
Communication skills. Orthotists and prosthetists must be able to communicate effectively with the technicians who often fabricate the medical devices. They must also be able to explain to patients how to use and care for the devices.
Detail oriented. Orthotists and prosthetists must be precise when recording measurements to ensure that devices are fabricated and fit properly.
Patience. Orthotists and prosthetists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention.
Physical dexterity. Orthotists and prosthetists must be good at working with their hands. They may fabricate orthotics or prosthetics with intricate mechanical parts.
Physical stamina. Orthotists and prosthetists should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as working with shop equipment and hand tools. They may spend a lot of time bending over or crouching to examine or measure patients.
Problem-solving skills. Orthotists and prosthetists must evaluate their patients’ situations and often look for creative solutions to their rehabilitation needs.
The median annual wage for orthotists and prosthetists was $69,120 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $108,780.
Employment of orthotists and prosthetists is projected to grow 20 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,800 new jobs over the 10-year period.
The large baby-boom population is aging, and orthotists and prosthetists will be needed because both diabetes and cardiovascular disease, two leading causes of limb loss, are more common among older people. In addition, older people will continue to need other devices designed and fitted by orthotists and prosthetists, such as braces and orthopedic footwear.
Advances in technology are allowing more people to survive traumatic events. Patients with traumatic injuries, such as some veterans, will continue to need orthotists and prosthetists to create devices that allow the patients to regain or improve mobility and functionality.
Job prospects should be best for orthotists and prosthetists with professional certification. Although it is not required in all states, certification shows a specific level of educational knowledge and training that employers may prefer.