How Do You Become an Orthotist?

Orthotists fit external braces and supports for patients with malformed and weakened body parts. The goal of orthotists is to enable their patients to function to the best of their physical abilities. Orthotists are different from prosthetists who make and fit artificial limbs for patients. Both orthotists and prosthetists use knowledge of medicine, anatomy, engineering and materials science to enhance the lives of their patients.

Career Requirements

The National Commission on Orthotics and Prosthetics Education (NCOPE) requires a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics to become a certified professional. There are only approximately one dozen master’s degree programs in the country.

During the second half of an individual’s education, there is a mandatory, supervised residency. After graduation from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Program (CAAHEP), candidates must complete a residency program that is accredited by the NCOPE to gain clinical training, knowledge and experience in specialization areas like adult, pediatric and geriatric orthotics. Anyone who wants to professional practice as an orthoptist, must be certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ABC-OP). After certification, candidates may use the credential CO (certified orthotist) after their name.

Program Requirements

Most orthotics programs require students to have completed at least one year in biology, anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, psychology and college algebra. Most degree programs recommend students to take courses in biomechanics, kinesiology, material science and dissection anatomy. Other non-medical courses include art, such as drawing and sculpture, and business courses, such as communication and public speaking. Program applicants should gain experience by volunteering or working at a health care facility, such as a hospital or clinical rehabilitation program. They should have basic lab experience with techniques like laminating, plaster work and vacuum forming. Most programs encourage applicants to have at least one year of prosthetics or orthotics experience. Most of these master’s programs require students to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores.

Degree Programs

Orthotics graduate-level degree programs deliver curricula that provides the clinical, technical and practice management skills needed for successful medical careers. In order to prepare students for proper patient care, teachers use a clinical standard, evidence-based perspective. Faculty members usually have direct experience in clinics or hospitals. They teach by hands-on examples, clinical scenarios and simulated clinical activities. Students practice the processes and techniques for casting, fabricating and fitting orthoses on patient models. There are sometimes live volunteers who present themselves with a wide range of medical needs and conditions. Many programs require students to complete research projects and community service activities. Some programs provide hands-on clinical training in local clinics or one to two month clinical internships.

Orthotics degree programs will offer classes in neuroscience, clinical research, contemporary practices, orthotic materials, prosthetic management, orthotic technology and human movement and biomechanics. Anyone who wants to learn more about becoming an orthotist should visit the American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists’ website to learn more.