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Orthotic Technician


Description

Do you like working with wood, metal, plastic and other materials? Can you follow directions from a mould or imprint? A practical career that involves these types of skills is in the orthotic technology sector. Orthotic technicians use their practical building and design skills to make orthotics. They work under the direction of orthotists in the production, fabrication and repair of orthotic appliances used to support weakened body parts or correct body defects.

Orthotic technicians make, fit and repair braces and other orthotic devices such as surgical corsets and corrective shoes, according to the prescription specifications and under the guidance of an Orthotist. They read specifications to determine the type of ortheses to be fabricated and materials and tools required in the production of appliances.

When they get their prescription from the orthotist, they lay out and mark the dimensions of parts, using precision measuring instruments and templates. Next they bend, form, weld, and saw metal brace structural components to conform to measurements, using hammers, anvils, welding equipment, and saws. They drill holes and rivets components together. They also shape plastic and metal around cast of patient's torso or limbs. Since metal and plastic do not always feel nice against a person's skin, the orthotic technician will cover and pad the metal or plastic brace structure, using layers of rubber, felt, plastic, and leather.

Technicians use a number of different instruments and fixtures to test the orthotics just produced for freedom of movement, alignment of parts and biomechanical stability. They may attach the orthotics to patient's disabled or injured area, applying their knowledge of functional anatomy and may even instruct the patient on how to use the orthotic.

Similar to their prosthetic technician cousins, who make artificial limbs, orthotic technicians are in the business of making braces and supports. In fact, orthotic and prosthetic technicians follow basically the same procedures in their work although each deals with different abnormalities, designs, and patients. Orthotic technicians may specialize in prosthetics or orthotics, or work on both types of appliances.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Orthotic technicians need to have precise manual dexterity, strength, stamina, and patience to create orthotics. They have the ability to work both alone and with a number of people, and can work quickly. They are mechanical geniuses, inventive and creative people with sound decision-making skills. Orthotic technicians enjoy working with tools and machinery at tasks requiring precision. They are very technical and usually like having clear rules and guidelines for their work.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Design or draw working sketches or models from plaster casts supplied by prosthetists and orthotists
  • Assemble or build orthotic appliances according to drawings, measurements and plaster casts
  • Use a variety of materials such as metals, plastics, wood, leathers and fabrics
  • Make necessary adjustments to fit clients and rebuild any needed additives
  • Service and repair appliances as required
  • Maintain an inventory of materials
  • Assist in serving clients
  • Service and repair machinery used in the fabrication of appliances
  • May take the body or limb measurements of patients
  • Orthotic technicians usually work in laboratories and workshops, standing at workbenches. They use a variety of machines such as grinders, sanders, buffers, drill presses, lathes, welding equipment and sewing machines. Therefore, they must take proper safety precautions when using dangerous tools. They may also be required to lift heavy items. At times, orthotic technicians may be under pressure to meet deadlines, while at other times the workload may be quite light.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Orthotic technicians work in private clinics and device manufacturing companies, hospital rehabilitation departments and government agencies, and ambulatory care services and special treatment facilities (e.g. arthritis centers).

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for orthotic technicians? Since the training is very specific, advancement will take the form of moving into supervisory or management positions within one's place of employment. With additional education, they can become orthotists. Also, they could teach at technical institutes on how to build and finish orthotics. Otherwise, they can work in any other professions that require skilled work with the hands.
 

  Educational Paths  
There is no strict educational path to take, however, orthotic technicians usually require a two-year college program in prosthetics and orthotics along with one to two years of supervised practical training. Alternatively, orthotic technicians can learn in an apprenticeship coupled with a high school education. The apprenticeship will last about four years, under the training and supervision of a certified prosthetist.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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