An orthotist designs medical supportive devices and appliances, taking measurements to ensure that they fit properly. Patients in need of these devices (called orthoses) suffer from disorders, deformities, and injuries of the arms, legs, spine, and other areas of the body.

Orthotists are also trained as prosthetists, who design and fit prostheses to replace lost limbs. Orthotist and Prosthetist professionals work in clinics, hospitals, and colleges. Some are employed in the offices and workshops of companies that sell orthoses and prostheses. A person may specialize in any of the field or in both.

The job outlook for this profession is encouraging, with a 36% increase by 2022. Orthotists and Prosthetists are highly important in healthcare today given the increasing number of amputees and people with damaged limb as a result of accidents.

Orthotist Job Description

Orthotists fit orthopedic braces such as surgical supports and corrective shoes. These devices enable people to walk or perform other functions. Orthotists also design and fabricate facial appliances for patients with deformities who wish to improve their appearance. Prosthetists design and create artificial arms, legs, hands, feet, noses, and ears.

O&P professionals review medical records and conduct interviews to understand patients’ histories, needs, and desires. They examine the patient, taking measurements to determine the size and shape of device that will fit properly.

After creating an orthosis or prosthesis, the next step is to fit the device on the patient. Tests are conducted to ensure an appliance is working as designed. Patients need to be comfortable with how their devices feel, and know how to use them.

The responsibilities of an orthotist include:
  • Meet with patients to learn their medical conditions and needs;
  • Examine patients to obtain the measurements needed to design custom-made appliances;
  • Select the materials and parts for devices, then fabricate them in accordance with the design;
  • Place the orthosis in or on the patient’s body, then conduct tests to make sure it fits and functions correctly;
  • Teach patients how to use and take care of their devices;
  • Maintain and repair patients’ appliances;
  • Create and maintain patient records;
  • Receive continuing education by attending conferences and seminars, and keep up-to-date on medical information and techniques by reading professional publications.

Orthotist Prerequisites

Orthotists, like many other health-care professionals, often encounter patients who are upset, anxious, depressed, or angry. A calm, reassuring presence under pressure is needed. Strong communication skills, for interactions with patients and medical staff, also are helpful.

Other requirements include attention to detail, and the math skills needed to obtain and record measurements. Orthotists must be strong enough to lift patients and move heavy medical equipment. This poses a risk of injury, if safety protocols are not closely followed.

How to become an Orthotist

High school students planning to pursue careers in orthotics are advised to take classes in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, English, the use of computers, woodworking, metalworking, welding, psychology, social studies, and medical professions.

The next step is to graduate from an accredited, four-year college with a bachelor’s degree in orthotics or prosthetics. Courses cover kinesiology, pathology, research techniques, diagnostic imaging methods, biomechanics gait analysis, measurements and the taking of impressions, device fitting and adjusting, and postoperative care.

Following graduation, a prospective orthotist must obtain on-the-job training by successfully completing a one-year internship with a practicing O&P professional.

Master’s degree programs in which students specialize in orthotics also are available. They may qualify graduates for higher-paying positions. These programs have two aspects, coursework and clinical experience. Subjects covered in the coursework include spinal orthotics, upper and lower extremity orthotics/prosthetics. The objective of clinical experience is to enable the prospective orthotists/prosthetists to get used to the working environment and gain some practical experience before entering into the field.

Orthotist Certification

In a number of states, a license is mandated to practice as an orthotist. A degree in the field (Bachelor’s or Master’s), proof of having completed one year in residency, and passage of the state board exam are generally the requirements of licensure. Each state’s medical-licensing board has a website with information about how to apply.

The American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics is the board that provides certifications for orthotists and prosthetists.. This is recommended, as many employers require their O&P professionals to hold certificates.

Orthotist Salary

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Orthotist Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the orthotist job description:
  • Designs medically supportive devices, and measures and fits them to a patient
  • 4 year bachelor’s degree
  • 1 year internship program
  • Must be licensed to practice
  • 36% employment growth by 2022