37-40 per week
£21,692 + per year
Prosthetists and orthotists provide care for people who need an artificial limb (prosthesis) or a device to support or control part of the body (orthosis). Their work plays an important part in the recovery of patients who might otherwise struggle with physical movement.
If you have strong abilities in science, and want to use your practical nature and problem solving skills to help people, then this could be the career for you.
To become a prosthetist or orthostist, you will need to do a three or four-year degree course approved by the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO), and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
A prosthesis is a device that replaces a missing body part. Prosthetists design and fit artificial limbs (prostheses) to replace those lost through amputation or limbs missing at birth.
An orthosis is fitted to an existing body part. Orthotists design and fit surgical appliances (orthoses) such as braces, callipers, neck collars and splints. These can be used to support limbs or the spine to relieve pain, aid movement or prevent physical conditions getting worse. Orthoses may be worn permanently by the patient or used temporarily.
As a prosthetist or orthotist, you could work with people recovering from a stroke, those with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or cerebral palsy. Your main duties would usually include:
- assessing a patient's needs before they have an artificial limb or appliance fitted
- taking measurements and using computer modelling to produce a design of the prostheses or orthoses
- explaining a finished design to a technician, who will produce the final product
- carrying out follow-up checks with patients to see how they are coping with their device
- making sure the appliance or limb is functioning properly, and is comfortable
- carrying out adjustments or repairs if needed.
You would work alongside other healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, who would oversee the patient's exercise regime; and occupational therapists who would train the patient in how to perform daily activities with the device.
Working hours and conditions
You would usually work between 37 and 40 hours a week Monday to Friday. Part-time or flexible hours may also be available.
You would work within hospitals, clinics and health centres. You might also need to visit patients in their own homes.
The pay structure in the NHS is called Agenda for Change (AfC). Most prosthetists, if employed directly by the NHS, are paid under the healthcare scientist pay bands.
- Starting salaries are on band 5 between £21,692 to £28,180 a year
- With experience, prosthetists/orthotists can progress to band 6 earning between £26,041 and £34,876
- As a healthcare science consultant, prosthetists/orthotists can earn up to £67,805 a year.
A lot of prosthetists are employed by private companies who are contracted by the NHS. They will negotiate their pay directly with the company that employs them. Salaries will be in line with the figures above.
You will need to take a three or four-year BSc (Hons) degree in Prosthetics and Orthotics, approved by the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists and the Health and Care Professions Council. The approved degree course is available at two universities in the UK:
To get on to a degree you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C) including English, maths and a science-based subject, plus three A levels including maths and either biology, physics or chemistry.
Check with course providers for exact entry details because alternative qualifications may also be accepted. For example if you do not have qualifications in science you may be able to take a foundation year.
If you are a UK resident you will have your tuition fees paid for you and you may also be able to get a grant, depending on your financial circumstances. For more information, go to the NHS Business Services Authority website.
Training and development
Once you are an approved degree course, you will combine academic studies with clinical placements where you will get the chance to see patients wearing prostheses and othoses. You will study subjects such as:
- anatomy (the structure of the body)
- physiology (function of the body)
- pathology (the nature and cause of disease)
- human motion analysis (how the body moves)
- materials and design (how prostheses and orthotics are made).
When you have completed the degree, you can specialise in one area or practise both prosthetics and orthotics.
The University of Strathclyde and the University of Salford offer a range of relevant open-learning, postgraduate, taught Masters and research qualifications. Entry requirements usually include an Honours degree in a relevant subject or an alternative professional qualification.
You will also have access to further training and short courses through the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO).
Skills, interests and qualities
To become a prosthetist or orthotist you will need to have:
- an interest in how the human body works and moves
- technical and practical skills
- good problem solving skills
- creativity to design and produce devices
- good communication skills
- sensitivity and understanding to the needs of patients
- the ability to use your initiative and work well in a team
- strong IT skills (as computer technology is becoming an increasingly important tool of the job).
National Centre for Training and Education in Prosthetics and Orthotics
University of Strathclyde
131 St James Road
Tel: 0345 60 60 655
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150 850
British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists
Sir James Clark Building
Abbey Mill Business Centre
0141 561 7217
University of Salford (School of Health Sciences)
University of Salford
School of Health Care Professions
You are likely to start your career within a commercial orthotic or prosthetic manufacturing company (often working under contracts with the NHS). You could also work directly with the NHS.
With experience, you could progress to a management post or move into a specialist clinical area. You could also move into teaching, or a research and development post.
There is a world-wide shortage of graduate prosthetists and orthotists and career prospects are excellent according to the BAPO. UK courses are recognised overseas, and you will be able to find job opportunities in other countries. You might find work with manufacturing and servicing companies, or in private practice. You could also work with organisations such as the Red Cross who work with communities traumatised by war.
You may find the following useful for job vacancies and general reading:
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