Summary of occupation
Prosthetists make and fit artificial limbs (prostheses). Orthotists design, build and fit orthopaedic braces, callipers, splints and other supportive devices (orthoses). It is possible for these two roles to be performed by the same person, though it's common to specialise in just one field. Prosthetists/orthotists consult closely with patients to build customised devices, specially designed for the patient's individual needs. Once the prosthesis or orthosis has been fitted, the prosthetist/orthotist provides training to the patient in how to use and maintain the device. These workers must continually update their knowledge to stay current with advances in technology which may allow lighter, stronger and more naturally functioning devices to be built.
Designs, builds, fits and repairs splints, braces, callipers, artificial limbs and related appliances to restore function or compensate for muscular and skeletal disabilities. Registration or licensing may be required.
A prosthetist/orthotist needs:
- excellent communication skills
- the ability to empathise with patients and their families
- excellent problem solving skills
- an interest in anatomy, physiology and biomechanics
- creativity to design and produce devices
- to enjoy and have an aptitude for technical, practical and mechanical work
Prosthetists/orthotists in Western Australia usually work in hospitals or specialist clinics in the Perth metropolitan region. They split their time between working with patients in an office or clinic setting, and building devices in a laboratory or workshop. It is common for prosthetists/orthostists to work closely with other medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, orthopaedic surgeons, podiatrists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They generally work regular business hours during the week, though this may vary depending on the employer.
On average, orthotists and prosthetists, classified under other health diagnostic and promotion officers, can expect to earn between $1 250 and $1 499 per week ($65 000 and $77 999 per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As an orthotist or prosthetist develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.
Prosthetists/orthotists use a wide variety of materials to construct devices, including wood, plaster, steel, plastic, rubber and carbon. Plaster may also be used to take casts and make moulds of the area the prosthesis or orthosis is to be fitted. They may use hand and power tools, as well as heavy machinery, including grinding machines and welding equipment,to shape and construct these devices. Much of the design work is done on computer, using computer-assisted design (CAD) software.
To become an orthotist or prosthetist, you need to study prosthetics and orthotics to postgraduate level.
There are no courses in prosthetics and orthotics available in Western Australia. There is currently only one prosthetics and orthotics course available in Australia.
La Trobe University in Victoria offers a four year combined Bachelor of Applied Science and Master of Clinical Prosthetics and Orthotics. Contact the university for more information.
Apprenticeships and traineeships
As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.
If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.
If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.
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If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.