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What is an Orthotist and Prosthetist?

What is an Orthotist and Prosthetist?
Photo: What is an Orthotist and Prosthetist?
Orthotists and prosthetists are Allied Health professionals who work in the prosthetic area of health care.

An orthotist sees patients who need external devices to give them more mobility, such as a back brace for somebody suffering from scoliosis, or callipers for a patient suffering from polio, which will help them become more mobile.

A prosthetist fits patients with artificial limbs, including artificial legs, arms, or even a “bionic” hand.

Both orthotists and prosthetists assess, diagnose and supply the device that the patient needs, whether it be an artificial leg or an ankle brace.  Their goal is to increase a patient’s mobility and independence.

Their patients may range from children to senior citizens.  Young patients may have been born with a congenital limb deficiency, while adult patients may have lost a limb due to an accident or even a medical condition, such as diabetes or a vascular condition.
While some orthoses are supplied already made they usually need to be custom made for the patient.   The orthotist needs to make sure that the device fits the patient well and may have to make adjustments to it in order to get the best fit possible.  Common devices are prescribed for the foot, ankle, knee and spine.

A prosthetist designs and creates the artificial limb themselves.  A cast is taken of the patient’s stump and is filled with plaster of Paris.  Afterwards, adjustments are made to create a socket that can be made to fit the artificial limb.

Once the prosthesis or orthosis is fitted, the clinician sees the patient again for one or more follow up consultations, to make sure the patient is happy with the device and that it is working as it should be.

Orthotists and prosthetists can work in public or private hospitals.  Due to the constant advances in modern technology, prosthetic devices will become lighter, more flexible and more “cutting edge” all the time.

How do you become an orthotist or prosthetist?

Currently, there is only one university in Australia that offers the relevant course.  La Trobe University in Melbourne has a four year, double degree course.  The Bachelor of Health Sciences/ Master of Clinical Prosthetics and Orthotics offers a combination of theoretical and practical lessons and clinical placements.  Once you have graduated, you will be qualified to work as an orthotist or prosthetist.

Since there is only one course offered in Australia for this profession, competition to get a university place can be high.

Once you’re out in the workforce, a graduate usually decides to either specialise as an orthotist or prosthetist, not both.  The starting salary for new graduates is approximately $50,000 while experienced orthotists or prosthetists can earn around $90,000 per year.

If you’re fascinated by the human body and the musculoskeletal system and you want to help people with a disability, then becoming an orthotist or prosthetist may be a rewarding career for you.  You will be helping people to regain their mobility and independence as well as being able to use your creativity to design the most suitable kind of orthoses or prosthetic device for each individual patient.

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