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Purpose and Mission
Orthotists design, construct and fit a wide range of orthopaedic braces, callipers, and other supportive devices (called orthoses). Prosthetists perform the same roles for artificial limbs (called prostheses). While some people are experts in both orthotics and prosthetics, it’s more common to specialise in just one of the two areas.
Orthotists and prosthetists work closely with patients to build customised devices, each custom designed to meet the patient’s individual needs. After the prosthesis or orthosis has been fitted, this highly educated healthcare professional will then train the patient in the use and proper maintenance of the device. Orthotists and prosthetists must undertake regular continuing education to stay current with advances in technology permitting lighter, stronger or more naturally functioning devices to be designed.
While some orthotists and prosthetists are employed by the hospitals and clinics where they work and are typically supervised by a department head, the majority work for themselves in private practice, and do not have a direct supervisor.
Prosthetists and orthotists in private practice frequently have direct supervisory responsibilities, in many cases including evaluating members of the healthcare team or training new colleagues. Those who are employed by healthcare providers may have less direct oversight responsibilities, but more regulatory compliance-related duties.
A bachelor’s degree is required to practise as an orthoptist or prosthetist in Australia. Currently, the only bachelor’s degree that is accepted for entry into the profession is a Bachelor of Prosthetics and Orthotics. Some also earn a Masters in Clinical Prosthetics and Orthotics.
Nearly all practicing orthotic / prosthetic specialists are members of the Australian Orthotic Prosthetic Association.
Responsibilities of an Orthotist / Prosthetist
Given the dual nature of their responsibilities, most orthotists / prosthetists divide their time between consulting patients in an office or clinic, and actually comstructing devices in their lab or workshop. In most cases, prosthetists and orthotists work closely together with other health care professionals, such as doctors, nurses, surgeons, podiatrists, as well as physical and occupational therapists.
Keep in mind that orthotists and prosthetists have a variety of clients, including children with congenital limb deficiencies or cerebral palsy, those who have had an amputations for various reasons, patients who require support after a stroke or spinal injury, those who have diabetic foot ulcers or older patients who may have lost a limb due to problems related to vascular disease.