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 20 percent increase in jobs nationally between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). 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 $72,810 per year (BLS May 2019), although top earners in the upper decile can make more than $108,130.

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 orthotist 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: $18,907 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: $47,000 total

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.

Applicants 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. In addition to other standard requirements such as official transcripts, students must submit a background check, fingerprints, and proof of vaccinations. Proof of 80 hours of observation in an orthotic or prosthetic clinic is also required, 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: Up to $36,730 per year

Online or Hybrid Prosthetist & Orthotist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of orthotics and prosthetics education, there is only one NCOPE-accredited hybrid program.

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 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 a 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-hour

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 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 2019), there were 9,830 orthotists and prosthetists in the United States who earned $72,810 per year on average with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $41m360
  • 25th percentile: $52,120
  • 50th percentile (median): $68,410
  • 75th percentile: $86,580
  • 90th percentile: $108,130
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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