Medical Appliance Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a medical appliance technician? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a medical appliance technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Medical Appliance Technician

Medical appliance technicians can have a number of job titles, such as lab, prosthetics or orthopedic technician. These professionals assist healthcare professionals, like podiatrists, in building and repairing assistive devices for patients. Keep reading for a more thorough evaluation of the pros and cons of this career choice:

Pros of a Medical Appliance Technician Career
No formal postsecondary training requirements*
Opportunity to help build assistive appliances (e.g., artificial limbs)*
Challenging work environment (the complex technical problems that technicians encounter can make for very engaging work)*
Typically work 40 hours a week**

Cons of a Medical Appliance Technician Career
Low job-growth field (6% projected growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Hazardous work environment (manufacturing environment might expose technicians to dangerous machinery)*
Employers sometimes prefer applicants who have professional certification*
Lower-than-average salary (roughly $36,000 median annual salary)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **iSeek

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Medical appliance technicians create, customize and maintain various devices, such as artificial limbs, braces and supports. Workers in this position utilize tools that include drill presses, grinding wheels, claw hammers, measuring tapes and protective earmuffs. These technicians are generally supervised by a healthcare professional, such as an orthopedist. Some particular duties include determining the appropriate tools to use for a task, fabricating devices, evaluating work specifications and molding patterns.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Although the number of Americans in need of assistive devices is expected to increase, the BLS projected that employment for medical appliance technicians would only grow by 6% from 2012-2022, due in part to an increase in automation technology. In May 2014, the BLS reported that these technicians earned a median salary of about $36,000. Post-secondary education institutions offered the highest salary potential for technicians, as reported by the BLS in the same year.

Career Skills and Requirements

Postsecondary education in medical appliance technology is not a typical requirement; however, it can be beneficial for advancement or if you plan to pursue professional certification. As of January 2012, the National Commission in Orthotics and Prosthetic Education accredited certificate and associate's degree programs at only six U.S. schools. These programs generally include a mix of classroom and lab work that teaches students to fabricate, align, maintain and repair medical appliances. Other topics of study might include anatomy and physiology, forms of measurement, materials and medical terminology.

If you aspire to work as a medical appliance technician but don't plan to go on to a postsecondary program, you might consider taking high school courses in math, science, woodshop and computer technology, as well as independent college-level courses in anatomy and physiology and medical terminology. Although the amount of on-the-job training can vary, new trainees typically need at least a year before being able to construct devices on their own.

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • Ability to manually manipulate a variety of different tools
  • Ability to work on a team
  • Ability to think outside the box when developing solutions to complicated problems
  • Ability to reason deductively
  • Ability to work under the pressure of deadlines and quality assurance standards

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers may not advertise specifically for medical appliance technicians, but they do advertise for similar job titles, such as an orthopedic technician. Specifics vary, but employers typically list experience as a requirement. While this is not a complete view of the job market, following are a few listings from real employers in January 2013:

  • A Massachusetts dental office wanted a lab technician to help complete repairs on prosthetics and prepare laboratory orders. The ideal candidate would have at least two years working with prosthetic dental appliances.
  • A pediatrics hospital in Atlanta sought an orthotic prosthetic technician with at least one year of experience to join the Orthotic and Prosthetic Department's clinical staff. Applicants would need a high school diploma as well.
  • A medical school in Maryland wanted to hire an orthopedic technician to help apply and remove orthopedic appliances, such as braces and casts. Two years of related work experience and strong interpersonal skills were required. Professional certification as an orthopedic technician was preferred.

How to Stand Out

One of the primary means of distinguishing yourself from the crowd of aspiring medical appliance technicians is acquiring voluntary certification, which might be preferred by employers. You have a variety of options related to this position, offered by organizations like the National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Technologists (NBCOT) and the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABCOP). Credentials are available in areas that include orthotic fitting, orthopedic technology and therapeutic shoe fitting.

Requirements can vary by organization and credential, but you'll need to at least pass an examination. Before taking the exam, technicians typically are required to either have completed an accredited training program or met minimum experience requirements.

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Equipment Repairer

If the compensation rates of medical appliance technicians are too low for your liking, you might consider becoming a medical equipment repairer. In 2011, the BLS reported that these professionals earned a median salary of about $45,000. Their work is similar to that of technicians, with the primary exception being that they work with a larger variety of medical equipment, including electronic, hydraulic and electromechanical devices. In addition, they're typically required to hold at least an associate's degree in biomedical technology or a related field.

Orthotist or Prosthetist (O&P Professional)

Perhaps you'd like more responsibilities than a career as a medical appliance technician affords. In this case, you might consider a career as an O&P professional. The training that you receive as a technician could prepare you well for this career. However, unlike technicians, O&P professionals are responsible for designing devices as well as interacting with patients. In 2011, the BLS estimated the median annual wage of these professionals nationwide to be about $65,000. To become an O&P professional, you'll need to earn at least a master's degree and become certified, which requires completing a residency.

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The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
  • MSHS in Laboratory Medicine
  • BSHS in Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • BSHS in Biomedical Informatics

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Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Master of Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin

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Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

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Virginia College

  • Associate: Medical Assistant

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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University of the Southwest

  • MBA Healthcare Administration

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Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

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Brightwood College

  • Medical Assistant - AS
  • Medical Assistant - Certificate
  • Medical Assistant - Diploma

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