Prosthetists and orthotists provide care and support for those in need of artificial limbs, or a device to support or control part of the body. They are also involved in rehabilitation work with their patients.
Prosthetists design and fit artificial limbs (prostheses) for patients who have either lost a limb or were born missing a limb. Modern prostheses sometimes have a pneumatic, hydraulic or electronic mechanism to allow the limb to move.
Orthotists design and fit items (orthoses) such as wrist supports, neck collars, braces and special footwear, to support a patient’s limbs or spine or to relieve pain caused by illness or injury.
In either case you could be:
assessing the needs of patients who have amputations or conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, cerebral palsy, diabetes and stroke
working with doctors and physiotherapists to plan what prosthesis or orthosis is suitable for a patient
measuring the part of the patient’s body to which you are going to fit the prosthesis or orthosis, or taking a plaster cast or using shape sensing tracings to produce a cast
talking to the patient about his or her lifestyle so that any adjustments can be made to the item
designing the item, using your knowledge of anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, materials and technology
giving details to the technician who will make it or, perhaps, making the prosthesis or orthosis yourself
fitting the item to the patient, checking it is comfortable and working properly, and making any necessary adjustments or repairs
showing the patient, and perhaps carers, how to attach and remove the item
working with the physiotherapist who helps the patient to exercise, and with the occupational therapist who trains the patient how to use the limb in everyday activities.
There is no nationally agreed pay scale for qualified prosthetists or orthotists, as most of them work for commercial companies. However, most prosthetists and orthotists are paid under healthcare scientist pay bands.
Under NHS Agenda for Change, salaries for healthcare scientist practitioners start at Band 5, £30,229 to £37,664 a year. With experience this rises to Band 6, £37,831 to £46,100 a year.
Senior practitioners are on Band 7, £46,244 to £53,789 a year. The current pay scales are from April 2023.
As an orthotist you work in various clinics or in the out-patients' department of a hospital.
As a prosthetist you generally work in a specialised centre within a large hospital.
You may sometimes be in a workshop with the technician.
You have to travel to visit patients.
Working hours are regular, possibly with some occasional evenings or weekends.
You need a degree in prosthetics and orthotics approved by the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO). This leads to state registration, which you need to practise in the UK.
In Scotland the only degree course is at the University of Strathclyde. Entry requirements are 4 or 5 Highers at AAAB or AABBB including Maths at B and National 5 Physics or Engineering Science at B plus National 5 English. Advanced Higher Maths, Physics or Biology is recommended. Contact the institution for widening access entry.
The only other degree course in the UK is at Salford University – entry requirements 120 UCAS tariff points at Higher level (equivalent to AABB) including Maths or Physics plus another science subject at B.
You will require a satisfactory criminal record check from Disclosure Scotland to show that you are suitable for this type of work. Contact Disclosure Scotland for details on the type you would need.
You must register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to be allowed to use the title 'prosthetist' or 'orthotist'.
It is recommended that you are a member of The British Association of Prosthetics and Orthotics (BAPO), and may even be essential for some employers.
Prospects for prosthetists and orthotists are currently good. Some work in the National Health Service (NHS) but most jobs are either with manufacturing companies who contract out to the NHS or else in private practice.
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is the UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards of professional training, performance and conduct in the following health care professions: Arts Therapists; Audiologist; Biomedical Scientist; Chiropodist and Podiatrist; Clinical Scientist; Dietician; Dramatherapist; Occupational Therapist; Operating Department Practitioner; Orthoptist; Paramedic; Physiotherapist; Practitioner Psychologist; Prosthetist and Orthotist; Radiographer; Speech and Language Therapist. (The HCPC may regulate other healthcare professions in the future.) The HCPC website contains a register of all approved courses in the above professions.