Orthotists and Prosthetists

Summary

orthotists and prosthetists image
Orthotists and prosthetists fit, test, and adjust orthotic and prosthetic devices on patients.
Quick Facts: Orthotists and Prosthetists
2012 Median Pay $62,670 per year
$30.13 per hour
Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2012 8,500
Job Outlook, 2012-22 36% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 3,000

What Orthotists and Prosthetists Do

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.

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.

How to Become an Orthotist and Prosthetist

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for orthotists and prosthetists was $62,670 in May 2012.

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. 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.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of orthotists and prosthetists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about orthotists and prosthetists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Orthotists and Prosthetists Do

Orthotists and prosthetists
Advances in technology may spur demand for prostheses that allow for more natural movement.

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
Orthotists and prosthetists evaluate and interview patients to determine their needs.

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 manufacturing30%
Health and personal care stores22
Offices of physicians11
Federal government, excluding postal service7
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local, and private6

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.

How to Become an Orthotist and Prosthetist

Orthotists and prosthetists
Prosthetists are specifically trained to work with prosthetics, such as external limbs or other body parts.

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

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Median annual wages, May 2012

Orthotists and prosthetists

$62,670

Health technologists and technicians

$40,380

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

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 stores67,750
Federal government, excluding postal service66,960
Offices of physicians53,930
General medical and surgical hospitals; state, local,
and private
51,950

Most orthotists and prosthetists work full time.

Job Outlook

Orthotists and Prosthetists

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Orthotists and prosthetists

36%

Health technologists and technicians

24%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

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.

Employment projections data for Orthotists and Prosthetists, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Orthotists and prosthetists

29-2091 8,500 11,500 36 3,000 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of orthotists and prosthetists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Physical therapists

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 rehabilitation and treatment of patients with chronic conditions or injuries.

Doctoral or professional degree $79,860
Physicians and surgeons

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.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $187,200 per year.
Respiratory therapists

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.

Associate’s degree $55,870
Dental laboratory technicians

Dental and Ophthalmic Laboratory Technicians and Medical Appliance Technicians

Dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians and medical appliance technicians construct, fit, or repair devices that increase function in the lives of patients. These devices include dentures, eyeglasses, and prosthetics.

High school diploma or equivalent $33,070
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Orthotists and Prosthetists,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/orthotists-and-prosthetists.htm (visited October 26, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014