Pros and Cons of Becoming an Orthotic Fitter
As an orthotic fitter, you work with devices that correct or support parts of the body, called orthoses, for patients with limiting physical conditions due to disability or injury. Read on for more details about items to consider in determining if this career is for you.
|PROS of an Orthotic Fitter Career|
|Help others by making independence or movement possible*|
|Can get started in this career with just a high school education*|
|Many people are not aware of this occupation and do not seek these jobs*|
|100% employment rate for graduates of formal training programs***|
|CONS of an Orthotic Fitter Career|
|Possible high-stress situations with patients**|
|Low starting wages*|
|A lot of time spent standing*|
|Risk of injury while working with tools*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET, ***American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists
Job Description and Salary Info
Orthotic fitters work in various settings; you might secure employment in a hospital, private practice, rehabilitation center, clinic, home health agency or nursing home. As a fitter, you assess patients' orthotic prescriptions and needs based on their circulation, posture, skin and overall physical condition. You then design treatment plans based on your findings and in consultation with other healthcare professionals. Your goal is to help alleviate patient limitations and provide adequate instruction in the use of the orthoses. You follow up on your patients' progress and formulate modifications as necessary.
According to the most recent data available from OPcareers.org, a website created by the American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists (AAOP), based on 2008 data gathered by the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (AOPA), orthotic fitters with approximately six years of experience earned an average annual salary around $39,000, including bonuses and commissions.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated the annual median wage for medical appliance technicians, which includes orthotic fitters, was around $35,000 as of May 2014, with the lowest ten percent earning around $22,000. The BLS also predicted 6% employment growth between 2012 and 2022 for these workers, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.
Training and Other Standards
According to the BLS, most medical appliance technicians learn on the job. Skills required of orthotic fitters include manual dexterity and an eye for detail. However, while there are no formal training requirements, a high school diploma is usually requested by employers.
Education programs to become an orthotic fitter are also available and looked upon favorably by employers, per the BLS. The National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) approves orthotic fitter courses of study, which must cover topics including materials and tools, anatomy, pathologies, patient assessment, biomechanics and treatment plans. Programs must be at least 32 hours and include both classroom and lab-based fitting experience.
What Employers Are Looking for
Employers typically seek those with some type of experience in working with medical devices, either in a healthcare or sales capacity. Certification is also a common requirement for employment. Below are some examples of job postings from February 2012:
- A medical equipment company in California was looking for a certified orthotic fitter with a 4-year degree in a health-related field or else two years of relevant health or sales experience.
- A home care medical company in Wisconsin was seeking a certified orthotic fitter for their sales team with two years of experience and familiarity with other types of home medical equipment.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Formal training isn't a necessity for this profession, but the BLS reported that those who complete an education program in this field have the best job prospects. According to OPcareers.org, 100% of graduates from orthotics and prosthetics programs find employment.
Certification in the field is also voluntary, but the BLS notes it may improve your chances of advancement. The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics (ABC) offers certification specifically for orthotic fitters. In order to be eligible, you must hold a high school diploma as well as complete an NCOPE-approved program and at least 1,000 hours of practical experience. In order to receive the designation of Certified Fitter-orthotics (CFo), you must pass a computer-based exam.
Alternative Career Paths
You could pursue additional university education and become an orthotist. Orthotists are trained to provide custom-designed devices for patient support or correction. About 70% of orthotists and prosthetists have master's degrees, and the projected job growth from 2008-2018 is predicted to be faster than average, according to 0*NET. According to the BLS, in 2010 orthotists and prosthetists had an annual median wage of approximately $65,000. Based on the 2008 data gathered by the AOPA, OPCareers.org stated that an ABC-certified orthotist with 15 years of experience had an average annual salary of about $96,000.
BLS notes that medical equipment repairers use a similar skill set and tools as medical appliance technicians. As a medical equipment repairer, you maintain and fix machines used in health-related environments, such as patient monitors and defibrillators. The typical educational path consists of completing a biomedical equipment technology or engineering associate's degree program. Per the BLS, jobs are predicted to grow by 27% between 2008 and 2018, much faster than average.