Orthotic Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an orthotic assistant? Get real job descriptions and salary information to see if becoming an orthotic assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Orthotic Assistant

An orthotic assistant helps clients with devices that support their mobility, such as limb braces. While becoming an orthotic assistant can be a sound career choice, you'll need to consider all the factors in order to make a decision.

Pros of Becoming an Orthotic Assistant
No postsecondary degree required (Can get on-the-job training) *
Emotionally rewarding**
Favorable job opportunities**
Can work in many settings (hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, private practices or home health)**
Good pay for entry-level position (can make up to $63,000 as an assistant)****

Cons of Becoming an Orthotic Assistant
Have to work under supervision of a licensed orthotist***
Need some postsecondary courses for certification***
A degree is required for advancement**
Will need to be recertified every 5 years*

Sources: *National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education, **American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists, ***The American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics and Pedorthics, ****PayScale.com.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

An orthotic assistant aids an orthotist in fitting, fabricating, maintaining and repairing assistive devices for patients with impaired mobility. Close physical contact may be involved as you help the orthotist to physically examine the client and fit the device. You'll work directly with patients, under the supervision of a licensed orthotist, helping to evaluate patients' range of motion and muscle strength. You'll also help formulate a treatment plan and follow up with patients to determine any changes in treatment or functionality of the equipment. Orthotic assistants may work in doctor's offices, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities or long-term care homes.

Career Outlook and Salary Info

The American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists (AAOP) reports that the number of people who require orthotic and prosthetic devices is expected to increase 25% by 2020. This is due to the increased rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, which could lead to a larger demand for assistive devices.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide employment data specifically for orthotics assistants, they do offer outlook data for medical appliance technicians, who perform similar work. They predicted faster than average growth of 10% for medical appliance technicians from 2014-2024. According to PayScale.com, orthotic technicians earned hourly wages between $10 and $19 in September 2015.

What Are the Requirements?

While formal training is not mandatory, most employers want someone who can earn certification from the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC). You will need a high school diploma or GED certificate, plus at least a year of training under the supervision of an ABC-certified orthotist. You will also be required to complete college courses in physics, human anatomy and medical terminology and potentially pass a certification exam.

Useful Skills

Orthotic assistants have a lot of contact with people, patients and colleagues, so good communication and people skills are essential. You'll need physical dexterity, mechanical ability and even some artistic skills in order to craft orthotic devices.

What Employers Want

Most employers seeking orthotic assistants want someone who is trained in or willing to learn about both orthotics and prosthetics. While certification and experience are not mandatory, you should show a willingness to complete the training period to obtain certification. Here's a sampling of job postings from real employers in March 2012:

  • A children's hospital in Georgia was looking for a dual orthotic/prosthetic clinical assistant to fashion orthotic and prosthetic devices. About 70% of the job involved working directly with patients, performing tasks such as taking foot molds and performing cast modification. The assistant should have at least five years experience and hold orthotic/prosthetic certification from ABC.
  • In Idaho, a manufacturer of prosthetic and orthotic devices needed an assistant to work on fabricating custom appliances and interacting with patients with a variety of conditions. The company was looking for applicants with a high school diploma and some college coursework. No experience was necessary, but the job posting said the company's goal was for the person hired to become an ABC-Certified Prosthetic/Orthotic Assistant after one year.

How to Stand Out

Certify in Dual Disciplines

Dual training in orthotics and prosthetics is one way to stand out. Prosthetics is a medical field that aims to provide new limbs for amputees. Many job postings call for an assistant who is certified in both disciplines. It takes 18 months to three years of on-the-job training to achieve this dual certification, with at least six months to one year of training in each field, according to ABC.

Seek Additional Training

Since employers look for applicants who have knowledge of the field, you might also consider earning a degree or completing a certificate program. ABC reports that you can find associate's degree and certificate programs accredited by the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) that can help you acquire the technical and patient-related skills needed for this job.

Other Career Paths

Orthotic Fitter

If you want to work in the medical field, but aren't sure if a career as an assistant is right for you, you have other options. For instance, you might consider a career as an orthotic fitter. You would work with clients to fit pre-made orthotic devices, such as trusses, cervical orthoses, pressure hose and spinal orthotic devices. A fitter with six years' experience made nearly $39,000 in 2008, according to the AAOP. To become certified, you must complete a course approved by NCOPE. You would also need at least 1,000 hours of job experience before applying for ABC certification. Passing an exam is a requirement.

Dental Laboratory Technician

If the creative side of orthotics appeals to you, but you'd rather work on a different part of the body, perhaps becoming a dental laboratory technician would be a good career alternative. Dental laboratory technicians make crowns and bridges, using their artistic eye to create a realistic product. Many dental lab techs have high school diplomas and train on the job. You can also pursue an associate's degree program at vocational schools and community colleges. Employment in this field was not expected to grow from 2010-2020, the BLS predicted. The median annual salary for dental laboratory technicians was nearly $36,000 in May 2011, according to the BLS.

Orthotist

Would you prefer a job that requires more leadership skills and the opportunity to supervise others? Then you might consider becoming an orthotist. Orthotists evaluate patients and make decisions about the type of device needed. This career requires more education than an assistant career; you'll most likely need a master's degree and certification, the BLS reports. However, you can also expect average job growth and you can make more money. The mean salary for orthotists and prosthetists in May 2011 was $71,000, according to the BLS.

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