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Prosthetist - Orthotist Careers
Prosthetists design and fit artificial limbs (prostheses) to replace those lost through amputation or limbs missing at birth.
Orthotists design and fit surgical appliances (orthoses) such as braces, callipers, neck collars and splints. These can be used to support limbs or the spine to relieve pain, aid movement or prevent physical conditions getting worse. Orthoses may be worn permanently by the patient or used temporarily.
As a prosthetist or orthotist, you could work with people recovering from a stroke, those with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or cerebral palsy. Your main duties would usually include:
- assessing a patient's physical capabilities before they have an artificial limb or appliance fitted
- taking measurements and using shape sensing tracings to produce a cast to which the prosthesis or orthosis would be fitted
- designing a suitable device using your knowledge of anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, materials and technology
- explaining a finished design to a technician, who will produce the final product
- carrying out follow-up checks with patients to see how they are coping with their device
- making sure the appliance or limb is functioning properly, and carrying out adjustments or repairs if needed.
You would work alongside other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists (who would oversee the patient's exercise regime) and occupational therapists (who would train the patient in how to perform daily activities with the device).
You would usually work Monday to Friday, between 37 and 40 hours a week. Part-time or flexible hours may also be available.
You would mainly work within a specialist centre of a hospital dedicated to the rehabilitation of patients.
- Starting salaries can be around £21,200 to £27,500 a year.
- With experience, prosthetists/orthotists can earn between £30,000 and £40,000.
- Service managers may earn up to around £70,000.
You will need to take a four-year BSc (Hons) degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics, approved by the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists and the Health Professions Council. The approved degree course is available at two universities in the UK:
To get on to a degree you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and a science-based subject, plus three A levels including maths and either biology, physics or chemistry.
Check with course providers for exact entry details because alternative qualifications may also be accepted. For example if you do not have qualifications in science you may be able to take a foundation year.
Training and development
Once you are on an approved degree, you will combine academic studies with practical and clinical experience. You will study subjects such as:
- anatomy (the structure of the body)
- physiology (function of the body)
- pathology (the nature and cause of disease)
- mechanics and biomechanics
- prosthetic and orthotic science
- electrotechnology and materials science.
When you have completed the degree, you can specialise in one area or practise both prosthetics and orthotics.
The University of Strathclyde and the University of Salford offer a range of relevant open-learning, postgraduate, taught Masters and research qualifications. Entry requirements usually include an Honours degree in a relevant subject or an alternative professional qualification.
You will also have access to further training and short courses through the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO).
Skills and knowledge
- an interest in anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics
- technical and practical skills
- creativity to design and produce devices
- good problem solving skills
- the ability to empathise with patients and their families
- good communication skills
- the ability to use your initiative and work well in a team
- good IT skills (computer and microprocessor technology is becoming an increasingly important tool of the job).
National Centre for Training and Education in Prosthetics and Orthotics
University of Strathclyde
131 St James Road
British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists
Sir James Clark Building
Abbey Mill Business Centre
There is a world-wide shortage of graduate prosthetists and orthotists and career prospects are excellent according to the BAPO. UK courses have an international reputation and you will find opportunities overseas, for example with manufacturing and servicing companies, and organisations such as the Red Cross working in communities traumatised by war.
You are likely to start your career within a commercial orthotic or prosthetic manufacturing company (often working under contracts with the NHS). You could also work directly with the NHS.
With experience, you could progress to a management post, move into a specialist clinical area, private practice or teaching, including research and development.
You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading: (links open in new window)
- NHS Jobs
- Limbless Association
- Assistive Technologies
- International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics (ISPO).
Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.