Orthotic and prosthetic therapies programs prepare people to design and apply special devices that can resolve the physical limitations of patients. Students learn to counsel patients and evaluate their needs. They learn how to design artificial limbs and braces. In addition, they learn how to help patients use and care for the devices.
In early May, 2003, the news broke that an experienced rock climber and outdoor enthusiast named Aron Ralston had amputated his own arm. His arm had been pinned under a boulder as he was navigating a canyon, and if he had not cut off his arm, just below the elbow, Aron would have died. He made it out of the canyon alive and walking.
When people heard the news, the nation exclaimed at this man's strong will and courage. He made a difficult choice and endured much pain. Now, he has a new challenge in front of him: life with a new arm - a prosthetic one, that is. Aron will have to learn how to use his arm to do everyday things such as drive and write. True to his love of the outdoors, he has already said that he wants to learn how to use different prosthetic attachments so that he can mountain bike!
People across the world need prosthetics and orthotics. Prosthetics are artificial devices that replace missing body parts such as limbs, fingers, and eyes. Orthotics are braces that provide support and correction to weak muscles and bones. Orthotic and prosthetic therapists are people who help create these devices. They also fit patients with them and help patients relearn activities.
In orthotic and prosthetic therapy programs, you learn both clinical and technical skills. You take courses in caring for patients, including learning how to evaluate their needs and create treatment plans. You also take courses in biology, physics, and chemistry. You take courses about how the body works and moves, including biomechanics, gait analysis, and kinesiology.
A handful of colleges and universities in the U.S. offer programs in orthotic and prosthetic therapy. Typically you complete your degree in four years. Then you spend one year in residency training. In addition, many programs offer certificates in orthotic and prosthetic therapy. Certificates programs are usually for people who already have a bachelor's degree in another field. They usually take one to two years to complete.
As an orthotic or prosthetic therapist, you can work in private and group practice. You can also work for hospitals, clinics, and rehabilitation facilities. Many people decide to become trained in both orthotics and prosthetics, but you can also specialize in one area.