What is an Orthotics and Prosthetics Degree?

Orthotic devices or orthoses are supportive braces and inserts. Prosthetic devices or prostheses are artificial limbs or other body parts. Degree programs in orthotics and prosthetics (O & P) prepare students to work as orthotists and prosthetists – the healthcare professionals who design, create, fit, and repair these devices which support weakened body parts, correct body defects, or replace amputated limbs.

Orthotics and prosthetics blends healthcare with art, science, and engineering. Programs in the field span the clinical, behavioral, human movement, and materials sciences, as well as the technologies that sustain them.

Program Options

Master’s Degree in Orthotics and Prosthetics – Two Year Duration
All practising O & P specialists must hold a Master’s Degree in Orthotics and Prosthetics, from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education programs (CAAHEP).

To be accepted into an O & P master’s program, students must have earned a bachelor’s degree. However, there is no required major. The key is to incorporate into undergraduate studies the courses needed to enter an orthotics and prosthetics master’s program. Although they vary by program, common requirements include classes in physics, kinesiology, biology, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, calculus, and psychology.

To work in the field, master’s graduates must complete a one-year residency and fulfill state-specific licensing requirements, often achieved by passing the national certification exam administered by the American Board for Certification (ABC) in Orthotics, Prosthetics, and Pedorthics. Graduates can choose to complete their residency and become certified in either orthotics or prosthetics. If they wish to be certified in both, they must complete two separate residency programs and pass two separate exams.

Here is a snapshot of the typical orthotics and prosthetics master’s program, which consists of both lecture and laboratory components:

• Clinical Sciences – introduction to health and medical conditions commonly encountered in orthotics and prosthetics practice; basic concepts in epidemiology, etiology, clinical pathology, neuropathology, pharmacology, and diagnostic imaging
• Behavioral Sciences – fundamentals of personality development, psychological aspects of health and disability, the impact of rehabilitation and O & P care on quality of life, effective interpersonal communication
• Clinical Gait Analysis – biomechanical analysis of normal and abnormal human locomotion (walking, stepping, running), kinematics, kinetics, electromyography (the recording of the electrical activity of muscle tissue), plantar pressure
• Clinical Pathology – overview of human pathology, how disease affects human movement and neuromuscular function
• CAD / CAM in Orthotics and Prosthetics – application of computer-aided design and manufacturing to orthotics and prosthetics
• Lower Limb Orthotics – orthotics focused on adult and pediatric lower limb orthoses for treatment of the foot, ankle, knee, hip, and pelvis
• Introduction to O & P Processes and Clinical Methods – basic processes for fabrication of orthoses and prostheses
• Introduction to Prosthetics – the history of artificial limbs; socket designs, materials, interfaces, suspension and components used in constructing prostheses for persons with limb loss
• Materials Science and Selection – materials used in the construction of orthotic and prosthetic devices, both custom and pre-fabricated; how to choose the right material for specific clinical uses; classifications and properties of metals, plastics, foams, leather, and other materials
• Upper Limb Prosthetics – clinical training and practice in adult and pediatric upper limb prostheses
• Spinal Orthotics – clinical training and practice in adult and pediatric spinal prostheses
• Upper Limb Orthotics – clinical training and practice in adult and pediatric upper limb orthoses
• Transtibial Prosthetics – clinical training and practice in adult and pediatric transtibial (below-knee) prostheses
• Transfemoral Prosthetics – clinical training and practice in adult and pediatric transfemoral (above-knee) prostheses
• Assistive Technology – technologies and mobility aids important to orthotics and prosthetics clinical practice
• Clinical O & P Practicum – the supervised clinical component of most programs consists of a minimum of 500 hours, split equally between orthotics and prosthetics; during this time, students participate as student clinicians at hospitals, medical centers, orthotics/prosthetics facilities, and other healthcare facilities
• Research Seminars – fundamentals of research and data analysis, forums to discuss topics related to student research interests
• Capstone Research Project – a final original research project conducted under the advisement of a faculty member, requiring a written and oral report

Degrees Similar to Orthotics and Prosthetics

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Biomedical Engineering Technology
Degree programs in biomedical engineering technology train students in the development of biological and medical solutions such as artificial limbs, new drugs, and organ transplant techniques.

Dental Laboratory Technology
Dental laboratory technicians work behind the scenes and have limited, often no contact with patients. They make crowns, bridges, ceramics, dentures, implants, and braces that are prescribed by dentists. Students of dental laboratory technology learn all aspects of the art and science of crafting these restorative devices, known as dental prostheses. They learn in the classroom, in the teaching lab, and in real-world labs. Programs begin with core classes in functional anatomy – the study of bodily structure as it relates to function – and head and neck anatomy.

Occupational Therapy
Students of occupational therapy learn how to help patients adapt to loss of function by improving their fine motor and cognitive skills through therapeutic everyday activities.

Ophthalmic Technician
Ophthalmic technician education programs prepare students to work in support roles with ophthalmologists, who are medical doctors trained to treat diseases of the eye, prescribe medications, and perform eye surgery.

Physical Therapy
Physical therapy majors learn how to treat patients for whom movement has become strained or limited due to injury, illness, or aging.

Respiratory Care
Respiratory care programs prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists. The curriculum focuses on how to diagnose and manage cardio-pulmonary disorders. Training includes performing CPR, using ventilators, and providing oxygen therapy.

Skills You'll Learn

• Attention to Detail – if a medical device is not precisely measured and meticulously crafted it will not fit the patient properly
• Communication – orthotists and prosthetists must be able to effectively communicate and interact with both patients and other medical practitioners
• Critical thinking and Problem Solving – the work of orthotists and prosthetists involves evaluating patients, identifying their rehabilitation needs, and finding appropriate solutions
• Hand-eye Coordination and Manual Dexterity – the work of orthotists and prosthetists is intricate and delicate work; making orthopedic and prosthetic devices involves manipulating instruments, tools, wires, and materials
• Patience and Empathy – the work calls for an appreciation of patients’ concerns and anxieties
• Physical Stamina – orthotists and prosthetists are often on their feet for long periods and may need to lift and move patients in order to examine and measure them

What Can You Do with an Orthotics and Prosthetics Degree?

Orthotists and prosthetists typically work in these sectors:

• Medical equipment, devices, and supplies manufacturing
• Ambulatory / outpatient health services
• Health and personal care stores
• Hospitals and rehabilitation centers
• Federal government (examples: US Military, US Department of Veterans Affairs)
• Non-profits and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in regions affected by war
• Research and teaching


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