Career Information for a Degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics
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.
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 by 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 2012, there were 7,890 orthotists and prosthetists in the nation, and these professionals earned a mean annual salary of $69,960 in 2012 (www.bls.gov).
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 2012, according to the BLS, there were 12,230 medical appliance technicians in the nation. Figures from the BLS show orthotics and prosthetics technicians earned a mean annual salary of $38,200 in 2012.
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