Orthotists design and fit surgical devices (orthoses) including neck collars, spine supports, braces and callipers. These support parts of the patient's body, for example, taking over from paralysed muscles or relieving pain. Prosthetists design and fit artificial arms and legs (prostheses), making them look and work as much like a real limb as possible.
Also known as
Video: - Gordon: Prosthetist
As an Orthotist/Prosthetist, you design, supply and fit artificial arms and legs (prostheses). People might have lost a limb in an accident or had an amputation following a disease or injury. Sometimes, people are born without a limb.
You supply and fit surgical appliances (orthoses) that are used to help movement, compensate for paralysed muscles, relieve pain and correct deformities. Typical orthoses include:
- collars for the head and neck
- braces, corsets and trusses for the spine and abdomen
- splints for fingers and hands
- callipers for legs
- special shoes or insoles
You manage your own case load of patients. You are also very much part of a team, working alongside people such as Doctors, Nurses, Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists.
You concentrate on helping patients to carry on leading as normal a life as possible, at work, in the home and during leisure activities.
When you first meet a patient, you must assess your problem and then decide on the best type of device to meet their individual needs. You will use your clinical knowledge of things such as anatomy and physiology, matching this with your knowledge of the most suitable device to use.
Next, you take detailed measurements, and, often, a plaster cast or digital image. You may use computers, for example, to model the shape a limb needs to be. The measurements will provide sizes for the Technician, who will make the prosthesis or orthosis, enabling them to create a safe, comfortable fit for the device.
During fitting sessions, you show the patient how the device works, what its limits are, and how to put it on and take it off. You ensure that the device is comfortable and the patient is happy with it.
You closely monitor how well the prosthesis or orthosis works. You make adjustments, repairs or renewals at regular intervals.
You build a close relationship with the patient, helping them to adjust to their changed situation.
You work with patients of all ages. You also work with a wide range of disabilities from, for example, simple bone fractures or loss of a toe to complete paralysis or loss of limbs.
You work in hospitals, clinics and specialised rehabilitation centres.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become an Orthotist/Prosthetist, you'll need:
- a high level of technical knowledge in areas such as biomechanics and movement
- an interest and ability in scientific areas such as anatomy, pathology and physiology
- an interest in materials and the parts used to make devices, so you can choose the best ones to meet your patients' needs
- strong practical skills
- the ability to work carefully and accurately, with an eye for detail
- problem-solving skills
- the ability to explain things clearly
- patience, tact and sensitivity
- teamwork skills to work alongside other medical and health professionals, such as Technicians, Surgeons, Physiotherapists, Nurses, Biomedical Engineers and Social Workers
Pay and Opportunities
NHS employees are paid on a rising scale within defined pay bands, according to their skills and responsibilities. The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting - Band 5: £24,214 - £30,112
Hours of work
Most work around 35-40 hours, Monday to Friday, with occasional late finishes.
Where could I work?
Employers include the NHS and Orthotic/Prosthetic manufacturers. Opportunities for Orthotist/Prosthetists occur in towns and cities throughout the UK. There are also opportunities to work in other countries, in either a paid or voluntary post.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised on the NHS Jobs website, and on specialist job boards for medical careers.
Entry Routes and Training
Entry routes and training
There are two, full-time BSc (Hons) degree courses in prosthetics and orthotics. One is at the University of Strathclyde (four years) and the other at the University of Salford (three years).
Both courses combine academic learning, in areas such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, biomechanics and materials science, with clinical tuition.
Completion of these degree courses leads to state registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You could specialise in an area of the work or move into a management, teaching or research role.
Relevant experience includes working in areas such as nursing, engineering, mechanics and biomechanics.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
This career is an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
For entry to a degree course in prosthetics and orthotics, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels where you may be asked for maths, physics or engineering, and another science subject
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs (A*- C or 9 - 1)
The International Baccalaureate Diploma is acceptable for entry. Other equivalent qualifications, such as BTEC level 3 qualifications, might be acceptable for entry.
Please check all requirements with the universities.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Relevant experience includes working in areas such as nursing, engineering and mechanics.
If you don't have the qualifications you need to enter a degree in prosthetics and orthotics, you might be able to start one after completing a college or university Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to start an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
To get financial support from the NHS, you need to meet certain criteria. If you meet the criteria and are on an approved course (leading to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council), you'll get a grant of £1,000 for each year of the course. You can also apply for a means-tested bursary of up to £4,395 each year (or more in London). For more information, see the NHS Business Services Authority website.
- 11% of people in occupations such as prosthetist/orthotist work part-time.
- 4% have flexible hours.
- 5% of employees work on a temporary basis.
Professional institutions have the following roles:
- To support their members.
- To protect the public by keeping standards high in their professions.
The British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists is the professional institution for this career.
NHS Wales Careers
Publisher: National Leadership and Innovation Agency for Healthcare
Skills for Health
Skills for the health sector
Address: Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 9221155
Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
Address: Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 0845 3006184
NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN
Tel: 0131 6563200
NHS Business Services Authority
British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO)
Address: Sir James Clark Building, Abbey Mill Business Centre, Paisley PA1 1TJ
Tel: 0141 5617217
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales