Prosthetic Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

About this article
A prosthetic technician's median salary is around $36,000. Is it worth the training requirements? Read real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a prosthetic technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Prosthetic Technician

A prosthetic technician, which is a type of medical appliance technician, creates and repairs replacement limbs. Check out these pros and cons to see if a career as a prosthetic technician would be a good fit for you.

Pros of a Prosthetic Technician Career
Can work in many settings (manufacturing labs, health care retailers, hospitals)*
No degree required*
Personal satisfaction from helping others**
Reasonable pay for education level (median hourly wage for medical appliance technicians was about $17 in May 2014)*

Cons of a Prosthetic Technician Career
Few accredited training schools (only five in the U.S.)**
Some danger from use of power tools*
Much time spent standing*
Can be solitary work*
Slower than average job growth (6% from 2012-2022)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists.

Job Description, Salary and Career Information

Prosthetic technicians manufacture artificial joints and limbs. As a prosthetic technician, you'll receive measurements and specifications from prosthetists and other health care professionals before building the prostheses to order. Prosthetic technicians use various materials, such as acrylics, thermoplastics and carbon fiber, to craft the prosthesis. Hand and power tools are then used to add leather and fabric padding. You'll use your artistic talent to mix paint to match the client's skin tones. In addition to creating new prostheses, technicians also repair damaged devices and perform maintenance on prostheses still in use.

Job Prospects and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salary for all medical appliance technicians was nearly $36,000 in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). You may make more with experience and professional certification; the American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists (AAOP) reported in 2008 that prosthetic technicians with 11 years of experience and certification from the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics earned an average compensation of about $48,000.

The BLS expected employment for all types of medical appliance technicians, including prosthetic technicians, to grow by 6% from 2012-2022. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the two main causes of limb loss, are becoming more widespread, as is obesity, another factor in determining the demand for prosthetic devices, according to the AAOP. The AAOP reported that approximately 2.4 million people in the United States would use prostheses by 2020.

Career Information

Prosthetic technicians most commonly work in large manufacturing laboratories, but that's not your only employment option. You could also find employment in hospitals, nursing homes or rehabilitation clinics. Some technicians work in private practices alongside prosthetists, who handle the measuring and fitting of clients.

What Employers Want

Other than a high school diploma, there are no strict educational requirements for a prosthetic technician. Many prosthetic techs learn the ins and outs of the job by working as helpers. If you're interested in a career as a prosthetic technician, you can develop a good foundation by taking math and science courses in high school, according to the BLS. Classes in wood and metal shop, art and computers are useful as well.

Degree Information

While degrees aren't mandatory, employers may prefer to hire someone they don't have to train. AAOP notes that five colleges offer prosthetic technician associate's degree or certificate programs. The National Commission on Orthotic & Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) accredits these schools. Students in these programs learn the basics of prosthetic manufacturing while also gaining clinical experience.

Job Postings from Real Employers

A look at real job listings from February 2012 showed that employers generally accept applicants with either experience or education. The listings also reflected the diversity of settings in which a prosthetic technician may work. Here is a sample from a few postings:

  • A San Francisco Bay-area hospital was looking for an experienced prosthetic technician to run the prosthetics lab, fabricating prosthetic and orthotic devices, as well as managing the office.
  • A job listing placed by a prosthetics company in Florida called for a technician with a technical school degree or two years' experience to fabricate artificial limbs. Job duties also included contacting vendors to order materials.
  • One year of certified training or experience was required by a children's hospital in Portland, Oregon, seeking a prosthetic technician to fabricate, repair and maintain medical devices. Applicants needed to be able to lift up to 35 pounds and stand, stretch and bend without difficulty.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Professional certifications let employers know you've achieved a certain level of accomplishment in your ability to do the job. If you hold a degree or certificate, you can apply right after graduation to become certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC). Technicians without formal training must first work two years under an ABC-certified practitioner. The Certified Technician exam is a 3-hour multiple-choice test.

Develop Technical Skills

Technicians who are on top of the latest technological developments have a chance to shine above the rest. Many newer prosthetic limbs are electronic, with computer chips programmed for each user's needs. Prosthetics can be made of lightweight, but durable, materials, with computer technology helping to ensure better fits. A tech-savvy technician can run a lab in which specifications are downloaded to an electronic carver, and the technician simply oversees the process.

Technicians can learn about new technology through continuing education programs offered by prosthetics manufacturers and professional associations. The ABC, for example, offers classes online and in typical classroom settings that keep technicians up to date. Such coursework can also allow you to meet the requirements needed for re-certification.

Other Careers to Consider

If learning more about what this profession entails has lead you to question whether this is a good career fit, you may want to look check out other careers that are part of the field. Below are some alternative options to consider.

Prosthetist

If you love this field but would like to have more contact with people than a prosthetic technician position would allow, you could consider becoming a prosthetist. This is the person who actually measures and fits clients for the prosthetic devices built by the technician. A prosthetist must hold at least a bachelor's degree in orthotics and prosthetics. While the training is longer than a technician's, the money is better, too. The median salary for prosthetists and orthotists was approximately $65,000 in May 2010, according to the BLS. The AAOP reported that a certified prosthetist/orthotist with 15 years of experience made around $96,000 in 2008.

Orthotic Fitter

If four years of school is more than you're willing to pursue, you can consider a career as an orthotic fitter. As the name implies, orthotic fitters fit pre-made orthotic (as opposed to prosthetic) devices, such as trusses, cervical orthoses, pressure hose and some spinal orthotic devices. Training involves completing an NCOPE-approved seminar, which are available through one of the seven ABC-approved programs in the U.S. The fitter must also have at least 1,000 hours of job experience before applying for ABC certification. AAOP reported that the average compensation for a fitter with six years' experience was nearly $39,000 in 2008.

Dental Laboratory Technician

As a dental laboratory technician, you can use your creative and artistic skills to create dentures, bridges and other dental structures. Dental lab techs work from impressions of clients' mouths to create natural-looking dental appliances. While many techs are trained on the job, degree programs are available from universities, community colleges, technical schools and the armed forces. Training generally takes two years to complete, but may take four years at some schools. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for a dental laboratory technician was about $35,000 in 2010.

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