Orthotists and prosthetists, also called O&P professionals, design 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.                     

Duties

Orthotists and prosthetists typically do the following:

  • Evaluate and interview patients to determine their needs
  • Measure patients in order to design and fit medical devices
  • Design orthopedic and prosthetic devices based on physicians' prescriptions
  • Take a mold of the part of a patient’s body that will be fitted with a brace or artificial limb
  • Select materials to be used for the orthotic or prosthetic device
  • Fit, test, and adjust devices on patients
  • Instruct patients in how to use and care for their devices
  • Repair or update prosthetic and orthotic devices
  • Document care in patients' records

O&P professionals 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 braces and inserts. Prosthetists are specifically trained to work with prostheses, such as artificial limbs and other body parts.

Some O&P professionals may construct devices for their patients. Others supervise the construction of the orthotic or prosthetic devices by medical appliance technicians. For more information, see the profile on dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians.

Work Environment: 

Orthotists and prosthetists held about 8,500 jobs in 2012. Most work in offices, where they meet with patients, and then design orthotic and prosthetic devices. They can work in small, private offices or in larger facilities, and they sometimes work in the shops where the orthotics and prosthetics are made.

The industries that employed the most orthotists and prosthetists in 2012 were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing 30%
Health and personal care stores 22
Offices of physicians 11
Federal government, excluding postal service 7
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private 6

Injuries and Illnesses

O&P professionals who create 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.

Work Schedules

Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.

Education and Training: 

Orthotists and prosthetists need at least a master’s degree and certification before entering the field. Both orthotists and prosthetists must complete a 1-year residency before they can be certified.

Education

All orthotists and prosthetists must complete a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics. These programs include courses such as upper and lower extremity orthotics and prosthetics, spinal orthotics, and plastics and other materials.

All graduate degree programs have a clinical component in which the student works under the direction of an O&P professional. Most programs require at least 500 hours of clinical experience, split equally between orthotics and prosthetics.

Master’s programs usually take 2 years to complete. Prospective students can have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline if they have fulfilled prerequisite courses in science and mathematics; requirements vary by program.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some states require O&P professionals to be licensed; requirements vary by state. States that require licensure often require certification in order to practice. Most O&P professionals become certified by passing the exam administered by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC). To qualify for the exam, an O&P professional must complete a master’s program in orthotics and prosthetics and a residency program. Many O&P professionals become certified regardless of state requirements.

Training

O&P professionals who wish to become certified must have a 1-year formal residency in orthotics or prosthetics before sitting for the certification exam. Professionals who want to be certified in both orthotics and prosthetics need to complete a year of residency for each specialty and pass both sets of exams.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Orthotists and prosthetists must have excellent communication skills. They must be able to communicate effectively with the technicians who often create 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 designed and fit properly.

Leadership skills. Orthotists and prosthetists who work in their own offices must be effective leaders. They must be able to manage a staff of other professionals in their office.

Organizational skills. Some orthotists and prosthetists own their practice or work in private offices. Strong organizational skills, including good recordkeeping, are critical in both medical and business settings.

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 design 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.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for orthotists and prosthetists was $62,670 in May 2012. 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 $34,150, and the top 10 percent earned more than $111,030.

The wages for orthotists and prosthetists vary substantially depending on the industries they work in.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for orthotists and prosthetists in the top five industries employing these workers were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing  $68,680
Health and personal care stores 67,750
Federal government, excluding postal service 66,960
Offices of physicians 53,930
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local,
and private
51,950

Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of orthotists and prosthetists is projected to grow 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 3,000 new jobs over the 10-year period.

The large, aging baby-boom population will create a need for orthotists and prosthetists, since both diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are the two leading causes of limb loss, are more common among older people. Advances in technology may spur demand for prostheses that allow for more natural movement.                         

In addition, older persons need other devices designed and fitted by O&P professionals, such as braces and orthopedic footwear.  

Job Prospects

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.

For More Information: 

For more information about orthotists and prosthetists, visit

American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists

For a list of accredited programs for orthotists and prosthetists, visit

National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education

For information about certification for orthotists and prosthetists, visit

American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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