As a prosthetist or orthotist, you’ll care for people who need an artificial limb or a device to support or control part of their body. You’ll witness and be a part of a patient’s emotional and rewarding journey towards independence.
As an orthotist, you’ll make and fit braces and splints (orthoses) for people who need added support. This might be to help body parts that have been weakened by injury, disease or disorders of the nerves, muscles, and bones.
As a prosthetist, you’ll make and fit artificial limbs (prostheses) for people with disabilities. This includes artificial legs and arms for people who have had amputations due to conditions such as cancer, diabetes or an injury.
Prosthetists and orthotists have quite different roles, but both aim to improve people’s ability to move freely. As a prosthetist, you’ll create and fit artificial replacements for patients who are missing a limb. As an orthotist, you’ll correct problems or deformities in nerves, muscles, and bones.
The work is quite varied and may include:
fitting a prosthesis for a military veteran and helping them through the journey of their entire rehabilitation process
giving a surgeon your advice when they’re performing an amputation
helping a diverse range of ages, from children with cerebral palsy to adults with arthritis
preventing patients from needing amputations by providing well-fitting splints and complex footwear
What are the pay and conditions like?
Your standard working week will be around 37.5 hours and may include a mix of shifts, such as nights, early starts, evenings and weekends.
You will be able to claim £2,000 a year towards childcare costs through the NHS Learning Support Fund, and there’s funding available for adult dependants and some placement travel costs too. If you have a disability, there are grants to help with essential costs via the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
You'll also have access to one of the best pension schemes in the UK, as well as access to exclusive health service discounts and benefits at some of the most popular brands.
Where could you be working?
You are likely to be based in a hospital but may also work in private clinics.
What are your career development opportunities?
Once you’ve qualified and registered with the Health and Care Professions Council, you can choose to specialise as a prosthetist or an orthotist.
You’ll receive an annual personal development review to ensure you’re making the most of every opportunity offered. And with continuous professional development, you can add to your skills and progress to specialist roles with a higher pay grade.
You may also join the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO), where you can keep your skills up-to-date with courses, conferences, and seminars.
You may choose to specialise in sports injury, diabetes, forensic podiatry or working with children. Teaching, research, and management are other career pathways.
As a prosthetist or orthotist, you won’t just treat your patients physically. You’ll also help them feel happy and comfortable living with their blade or brace.
You’ll need to be a great communicator and be able to build rapport with your patients, as it can be a nervous time for them. You’ll need to be the voice of encouragement and the person who listens and understands. You’ll also need to communicate clearly with the technicians who create medical devices for your patients.
Are you detail-oriented?
You must be precise when recording measurements, so that each device fits properly and is truly tailored for the individual. This can often feel like a make or break moment for patients, so it is crucial to get fittings as accurate as possible.
Are you dextrous?
You must be good at working with your hands. You’ll be helping to design orthotics and prosthetics with intricate mechanical parts.
Are you good at problem-solving?
You’ll need to evaluate every patient’s situation and look for creative ways to meet their personal rehabilitation needs. The nature of the job is seeing different people with very different conditions. Every patient is a project and will need their own tailored plan.
Do you have a good level of fitness?
This is a physical job where using your hands is vital. To get the best performance out of a prosthesis or aid, you’ll need to make a lot of adjustments.
You should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as working with hand tools and workshop equipment to make these adjustments. You might also spend a lot of time bending over or crouching to examine and measure patients.
To become a prosthetist or an orthotist, you must first successfully complete an approved degree in prosthetics and orthotics. Only a few universities in the UK offer full-time courses, which take three or four years depending on the university. Once you’ve successfully completed your degree, you’ll need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you can start practising.
Entry requirements for an undergraduate degree include:
two or three A levels, including maths, physics, biology/human biology or engineering
five GCSEs (grades A – C), including English language, maths, and science
Or the equivalent qualifications:
a BTEC, HND or HNC, including maths or engineering
a relevant NVQ
a science-based Access course
equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications
a previous degree or a full practising qualification in a related area
Every university sets its own entry requirements, so it’s important to check with them directly.
Applying with a degree apprenticeship
A degree apprenticeship with a healthcare provider is another way to become a prosthetist or an orthotist. Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn a living while gaining your qualification.
As well as a genuine interest in prosthetics or orthotics, you’ll need to meet the academic requirements of the apprenticeship – typically holding qualifications at Level 3.
Occupational therapists empower people to overcome the difficulties they face with living independently. They improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities, illnesses, traumas, ageing, and long-term conditions.