Orthotists and Prosthetists


Quick Facts: Orthotists and Prosthetists
2017 Median Pay $66,240 per year 
$31.85 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Master's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2016 7,800
Job Outlook, 2016-26 22% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 1,700

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Orthotists and Prosthetists Career, Salary and Education Information

What Orthotists and Prosthetists Do

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.

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orthotists ad prosthetists

Duties of Orthotists and Prosthetists

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.


Work Environment for Orthotists and Prosthetists

Orthotists and prosthetists held about 7,800 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of orthotists and prosthetists were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing: 37%

Ambulatory healthcare services: 20%

Health and personal care stores: 17%

Federal government, excluding postal service: 10%

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 10%

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.

Work Schedules

Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.


How to Become an Orthotists and Prosthetist

Orthotists and prosthetists need a master’s degree and certification. Both orthotists and prosthetists must complete a 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 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).

Training

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.

Important Qualities

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.


salaries for Orthotists and Prosthetists

The median annual wage for orthotists and prosthetists was $66,240 in May 2017. 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 $36,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $104,900.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for orthotists and prosthetists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Medical equipment and supplies manufacturing: $70,240

Federal government, excluding postal service: $68,440

Health and personal care stores: $66,190

Ambulatory healthcare services: $64,430

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $57,470

Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.


Job Outlook for orthotists and prosthetists

Employment of orthotists and prosthetists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

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.

Employment projections data for Orthotists and Prosthetists, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 7,800

Projected Employment, 2026: 9,500

Change, 2016-2026: +22%, +1,700


Careers Related to orthotists and prosthetists

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair medical appliances and devices, including dentures, eyeglasses, and prosthetics.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

Physical Therapists

Physical therapists, sometimes called PTs, help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain. These therapists are often an important part of the rehabilitation, treatment, and prevention of patients with chronic conditions, illnesses, or injuries.

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Physical TherapistsDoctoral or professional degree$86,850
Physicians and SurgeonsDoctoral or professional degreeThis wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.
Respiratory TherapistsAssociate's degree$59,710
Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance TechniciansHigh school diploma or equivalent$35,250
Occupational TherapistsMaster's degree$83,200

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Orthotists and Prosthetists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/orthotists-and-prosthetists.htm