Orthotists and prosthetists design and fabricate medical supportive devices and measure and fit patients for them.
What they do
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 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/or Prosthetist
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.
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.
The median annual wage for orthotists and prosthetists was $68,410 in May 2019. 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 $41,360, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $108,130.
Employment of orthotists and prosthetists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,700 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.
Similar Job Titles
Certified Orthotist (CO), Certified Pedorthist, Certified Prosthetist (CP), Certified Prosthetist and Orthotist (CPO), Certified Prosthetist Orthotist (CPO), Licensed Prosthetist and Orthotist (LPO), Orthotic Practitioner, Orthotist, Prosthetic Practitioner, Prosthetist
Career/Technical Education Teacher-Secondary School, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Nurse Midwife, Nurse Practitioner
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists
- American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics
- American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association
- American Physical Therapy Association
- Association of Children's Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics
- Board of Certification/Accreditation
- International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics
- National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education
Magazines and Publications
Whether the patient they’re caring for is a child born with one leg shorter than the other, or a veteran who lost a limb in combat… orthotists and prosthetists help people get the medical support devices they need. Orthotists and prosthetists interview patients and evaluate their unique situation to design a custom device or solution. They take detailed measurements or impressions and select appropriate materials for the device, which might include artificial arms, hands, legs, feet, or braces. They may either fabricate the device, or supervise a technician who constructs the device according to their specifications. Once a piece is finished, orthotists and prosthetists meet with patients to instruct them on how to use and maintain their device. While both have training to make any type of device, if they specialize, orthotists specifically work with supportive devices such as spinal or knee braces, while prosthetists specialize in prostheses such as artificial limbs. Stamina and dexterity are important in both fields to operate shop equipment, examine patients, and build with intricate mechanical parts. Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time in manufacturing facilities, retail stores, doctors’ offices, and hospitals. A master’s degree, one-year residency, and certification are typically required. Graduate programs include courses in working with plastics and other materials, as well as supervised clinical experience. Some states require licensure.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org