Prosthetist (Orthotist)

When most people think of orthotics, the first thing that comes to mind is a shoe insert. While that is an important component of orthotics, this field entails so much more. Orthotics, supportive devices, and braces are essential to many people’s day-to-day lives. Injuries, birth defects, or sprains all may require a prosthetist to measure, select, and fit people with a brace or device to maintain or improve mobility.

Orthotists and prosthetists typically have earned at least a master’s degree in orthotics and have completed a residency in a clinic, ambulatory center, hospital, or medical device manufacturer. These two- to three-year programs train students on how to assess client needs and then fit them with the best device for their condition. Professionals in this line of work are required to stay up to date on the latest developments in a rapidly changing field as well as educate their clients on how to best use and care for their orthotics.

The job outlook for orthotists is good with a projected 18 percent increase in jobs nationally between 2020 and 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021). This increase is due to an aging population with a prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a high demand for orthopedic footwear. The average pay for this career is $74,120 per year (BLS May 2020), although top earners in the upper decile can make more than $110,130.

Read on to learn about top programs in orthotics, accreditation, admission requirements, typical job duties, and certification and licensure requirements.

Prosthetist & Orthotist Specializations & Degree Types

Orthotists must complete a master’s degree in orthotics. While there aren’t specialized studies for orthotics, over time, professionals tend to specialize in one or two parts of the body. Creating orthotics is a specialized practice. Common areas of focus can be the back, arms, legs, hands, or feet.

Admissions Requirements for Prosthetist & Orthotist Programs

Most orthotics programs require students to have already completed a bachelor’s degree. Aspiring orthotists should complete undergraduate programs such as biomedical engineering, biology, or even physiology, although with additional classes, most science-based undergraduate degrees will suffice.

That said, some programs, such as the one at Loma Linda University, offer entry-level master’s degrees in orthotics. This does not require a bachelor’s degree, but it does require the completion of significant undergraduate coursework.

Orthotist programs also typically require proof of vaccinations, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, GRE scores, original transcripts, and a statement of purpose or required essay. Many programs also require observation, volunteer, internship, or work experience hours in an orthotics or prosthetics practice.

Prosthetist & Orthotist Program Accreditation

The predominant accreditation entity for orthotist and prosthetist programs in the United States is the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE), in partnership with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs​ (CAAHEP).

Accreditation assures students, other institutions, and employers that the education received meets a minimum level of quality and content. As of May 2020, there are thirteen accredited programs in the US.

On-Campus Prosthetist & Orthotist Degree Programs

Baylor College of Medicine – School of Health Professions

The master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Baylor College of Medicine School of Health Professions is the only program in the country with a dual residency program, preparing students to sit for both the orthotics and prosthetics certification exams. This 30-month program comprises 12 months of classroom courses followed by an 18-month residency.

A state-of-the-art orthotics and prosthetics lab is just one of the many perks of this program. Because this program is housed in the College of Medicine, students have the opportunity to take courses across multiple disciplines. Additionally, Baylor has established residencies with 100 clinical affiliates.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, a personal essay, official transcripts, prerequisite courses, and a recommended 150 hours of observation of an orthotist or prosthetist.

  • Location: Houston, TX
  • Duration: 30 months
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $15,198.50 to $30,151 per year

University of Texas – Southwestern Medical Center School of Health Professions

Graduates of the master’s of prosthetics-orthotics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center School of Health Professions are prepared to assess function, determine treatment, and craft prosthetics or orthotics to improve mobility and function.

This program places a strong emphasis on community service, research, and hands-on clinical experience. All students have the opportunity to complete a one-month off-campus clinical experience. Students are required to complete 60 credits in courses such as biomechanics of movement, orthotics for the spine, prosthetics for lower limbs, neuroscience, and physiology.

Admission requirements include GRE scores, official transcripts, prerequisite courses, and a completed bachelor’s degree. Applicants will also need to provide proof of shadowing, visiting, interning, or working in an orthotics or prosthetics practice.

  • Location: Dallas, TX
  • Duration: 19 months
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $50,511 total

Eastern Michigan University – School of Health Promotion & Human Performance

In just two years, students can graduate with a master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics from Eastern Michigan University School of Health Promotion & Human Performance. With a combination of academic and clinical coursework, students are well prepared for their clinical rotations and hands-on training.

There are only 12 students admitted to this program each year which guarantees small class sizes and individualized attention from faculty. This program doesn’t have a residency component, so students will need to complete one separately. For the past five years, this program has had a 100 percent success rate in placing graduates in a residency. In addition, all students must complete a research project which has resulted in many students publishing findings in peer-reviewed journals.

  • Location: Ypsilanti, MI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $19,136 per year

California State University, Dominguez Hills

The master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaches evaluation, fabrication, and fitting of custom limbs and braces. This program is housed in the Orthotic and Prosthetic Education Center which is a 12,000-square-foot facility for clinical, laboratory, and lecture classes.

Students in this program have the unique opportunity to complete their clinical rotations at the Veteran Administration, where they can help treat combat-wounded veterans. There are also clinical rotations at local medical clinics to provide students with a well-rounded education.

In total, students must complete between 64 to 66 credits in order to earn this degree. Admission to this program is competitive, and students must complete prerequisite coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology, psychology, and statistics. Other admission requirements include GRE scores, 40 hours of volunteer work in orthotics and prosthetics, and a completed application.

  • Location: Los Alamitos, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $17,884 per year

International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics

The International Institute of Orthotics and Prosthetics is an independent educational institution dedicated strictly to orthotics and prosthetics. This school strives to graduate orthotics and prosthetists who are confident critical thinkers who can provide therapy to a wide variety of clients. In total, students must complete 49 credits over the course of four semesters to earn this master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics. Upon completion of this program, students must complete a residency in order to be eligible for board certification.

Like most orthotics and prosthetics programs, admissions to this degree are competitive. Students must complete prerequisite coursework in physics, biology, chemistry, anatomy, psychology, and statistics. To be eligible for admission, students must already have a bachelor’s degree, provide two letters of recommendation, and a current resume with orthotics or prosthetics work experience.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $1,021 cost per credit

Online or Hybrid Prosthetist & Orthotist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of orthotics and prosthetics education, there are no fully online NCOPE-accredited programs. However, there are some hybrid learning options.

Concordia University – St. Paul College of Health & Science

Students can complete the master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Concordia University St. Paul College of Health & Science in a flexible hybrid format. The majority of the 36 required credits can be completed online with the exception of three one-week intensive courses that are held on campus. This flexibility allows students to complete their degrees without sacrificing work, family life, or having to relocate.

Required coursework for this master’s degree includes ethics, research methods, and extensive courses in orthotic and prosthetic assessment, and fit and function. This program is open to students who haven’t yet earned a bachelor’s degree, although having one means fewer prerequisite and admissions requirements. Graduates of this program will need to complete an NCOPE residency in order to practice in the field.

  • Location: St. Paul, MN
  • Duration: 22 months
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $515 per credit

Loma Linda University – School of Allied Health Professions

The entry-level master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics at Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health Professions accepts students who have not yet completed a bachelor’s degree. Graduates of this program will be prepared to work in a variety of settings assessing patients’ orthotic and prosthetic needs and then crafting those devices to improve the everyday life of patients. They will also have the skills needed to teach patients how to use their devices and can provide follow-up care.

Loma Linda also offers a hybrid learning master’s of science in orthotics and prosthetics for students who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. This is a two-year degree, with the first year being online and theoretical, and the second year in person and clinical.

Applicants for the entry-level program need to have only completed 64 semester- or 96 quarter-credits in a variety of required courses (with a 3.0 GPA or higher) to be considered for admission. The hybrid master’s requires proof of an undergraduate degree. In addition to other standard requirements such as official transcripts, students must submit a background check, fingerprints, and proof of vaccinations. Both programs require proof of 80 hours of observation in an orthotic or prosthetic clinic, along with a letter of recommendation from the clinic.

  • Location: Loma Linda, CA
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $63,300 total

Northwestern University – Feinberg School of Medicine

The first six months of the 21-month master’s of prosthetics and orthotics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine can be completed entirely online. Then students must then travel to campus for 12 months of intensive hands-on clinical studies. The final three months of the program are also distance learning, where students complete in-depth studies in their primary area of interest. Upon completion of this program, students are prepared to apply for and complete their residency.

Applications for this flexible program are accepted on a rolling basis. Each year 48 students are accepted into the program, and all applications are considered until all the seats are filled. Unlike other programs, Northwestern doesn’t require candidates to have any experience in the field. However, most accepted candidates have 200 to 200 hours of shadowing

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $35,087 per year

Kennesaw State University – Wellstar College of Health and Human Services

At Kennesaw State University Wellstar College of Health and Human Services, the master’s of science in prosthetics and orthotics is offered in a flexible hybrid format. While all laboratory classes and clinicals are in person, lecture classes are offered either entirely online or hybrid. Not only does this allow students a greater degree of flexibility with their studies, but it also offers substantial savings as the online classes cost a third of the in-person ones.

The goal of this program is to graduate entry-level orthotists and prosthetists who have strong problem-solving skills grounded in science. Kennesaw houses several state-of-the-art facilities students will learn in, including a machine room, biomechanics and motion analysis lab, clinical simulation lab, and device assembly lab. This is a cohort-based program so students will take all of their courses over two years with the same students allowing them to develop a strong peer network.

  • Location: Kennesaw, GA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: Online courses are $383 per credit and face-to-face are $1171 per credit

University of Hartford

Students who have already obtained a certification from the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC) but want to complete a master’s for a higher certification can complete the online transitional master’s of science in prosthetics and orthotics at the University of Hartford.

In order to complete this program, students must have an affiliation with an ABC certified clinic as well as have an ABC certified clinician to act as a mentor. Since the level of certification and education already completed can vary greatly between each student, this program is individually tailored to fit the educational goals.

One of the primary benefits of this program is that students can advance their education without having to relocate or quit their jobs because it is primarily distance learning. This program is designed for dual certification as both a prosthetist and orthotist. Admission requirements include already holding an ABC certification, two letters of recommendation, official transcripts from undergraduate coursework, and a completed application.

  • Location: West Hartford, CT
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE)
  • Tuition: $650 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become an Orthotist or Prosthetist?

After graduating from high school, it takes between six to eight years to become an orthotist or prosthetist. The amount of time it takes varies based on the program of study and length of residency.

How To Become a Prosthetist & Orthotist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

A high school diploma or a GED is necessary to pursue a career as an orthotist. Most bachelor’s degree programs require one or the other and it demonstrates a commitment to completing a course of education. Students interested in pursuing this career can take courses in biology, anatomy, and physiology to help prepare them for college studies.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)

Most orthotic master’s programs require a bachelor’s degree; however, those that do not require between two to three years of completed undergraduate studies. Students pursuing a career in orthotics should complete a bachelor’s in orthotics, biomedical engineering, physiology, or even pre-med. Many master’s programs have prerequisite course requirements so students should check with their preferred programs to ensure they take the required classes.

Step 3: Intern, Volunteer, or Work in a Orthotics or Prosthetics Clinic (Optional, One to Two Months)

Many master’s programs require applicants to have complete observation hours, an internship, volunteer hours, or work experience at an orthotic or prosthetic clinic in order to be eligible for admission. These hours are typically unpaid, unless it is work experience, and can be completed while pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two to Three Years)

A master’s in orthotics is necessary to work as an orthotist or prosthetist. These programs take two to three years to complete. Most programs have students specialize in either orthotics or prosthetics; however, the program at Baylor University prepares students to enter both fields.

Students should ensure their program is accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) for ease of certification and licensure, if necessary.

Step 5: Complete Residency (Two to Three Years)

Some master’s programs include a residency as part of the course of study while others simply offer the didactic courses expecting students to complete a residency on their own. Students can apply for and complete residencies through NCOPE.

Step 6: Obtain Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Certification for orthotists is not required, although most professionals obtain one as it denotes proficiency and is useful for employment or advancement.

The commonly obtained certification is as a Certified Orthotist (CO) through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC). A master’s degree from an NCOPE (CAAHEP)-accredited program and an NCOPE residency are required to be eligible for the exam. The exam has multiple choice and simulation components.

Step 7: Secure Licensure (Location and Timeline Varies)

Only seventeen states require orthotists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state and applicants should contact their local board to ensure they have met all the requirements.

What Do Prosthetists & Orthotists Do?

Orthotists work with clients in a variety of settings including clinics, hospitals, medical equipment manufacturers, and ambulatory centers. Day-to-day job duties include:

  • Evaluating clients mobility
  • Writing a treatment plan to help improve mobility
  • Taking measurements of the body to be able to fit patients with a brace or other supportive device
  • Choosing which device will be the best fit for a client
  • Fitting devices to a client
  • Educating clients and family members on how to use and care for the brace or device
  • Maintaining client records

Prosthetist & Orthotist Certifications & Licensure

Orthotists are only required to be licensed in 17 states. Most of the states that require licensing also require certification, among other requirements. The commonly obtained certification for orthotists is as a Certified Orthotist (CO) through the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC).

While certifications are not required for most orthotists, it is a common practice in the profession and something most employers look for. In order to be eligible to take the exam, candidates must have a master’s from an NCOPE (CAAHEP)-accredited program and have completed an NCOPE residency.

How Much Do Prosthetists & Orthotists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), there were 9,550 orthotists and prosthetists in the United States who earned $74,120 per year on average with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $41,790
  • 25th percentile: $53,770
  • 50th percentile (median): $70,190
  • 75th percentile: $89,240
  • 90th percentile: $110,130

Prosthetics & Orthotist Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a prosthetist or orthotist:

Become a Physical Therapist

Physical therapists work with clients who have had an injury, neurological disorder, birth defect, or stroke. They provide hands-on care to improve strength, mobility, and stamina through exercise and movement.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of physical therapy
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Physical Therapist Specialties

Become a Pathologists’ Assistant

Pathologists’ assistants work under the supervision of a pathologist. They can perform gross (initial) examinations, collect samples for analysis, and prepare specimens for testing. They work in hospitals, morgues, private clinics, and medical teaching facilities.

  • Typical Education: Master’s of science in pathologists’ assistant (PAA)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)

Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants work under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor but can perform many of the same duties. In most states, physician assistants can diagnose conditions, write treatment plans, assist with surgery, and even prescribe medications. They are considered physician extenders as they work under another care provider.

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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