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Prosthetic 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 prosthetic technology sector. Prosthetic technicians use their practical building and design skills to make prostheses. They work under the direction of prosthetists in the production, fabrication and repair of prosthetic appliances or artificial limbs used to support or replace lost limbs.

Prosthetic technicians fabricate, fit, maintain, and repair artificial limbs, plastic cosmetic appliances, and other prosthetic devices, according to prescription specifications and under guidance of prosthetist. They read specifications to determine the type of prosthesis to be fabricated and materials and tools required in the production of appliances. Prosthetics technicians make and finish artificial limbs by gluing and laminating (uniting superimposed layers of one or more materials) according to the specifications of the prosthetist. They also paint appliances specific pigment colors and make sure they perfectly follow the formula and requests of the patient.

When they get their prescription from the prosthetist, they lay out and mark the dimensions of parts, using precision measuring instruments and templates. Next they saw, carve, cut, and grind wood, plastic, metals, or fabrics to make parts, using rotary sawing and cutting machines and hand cutting tools. Adhesive materials consist of glue, welding, bolts and sewing to form prostheses, such as artificial limbs.

Prosthetic technicians make wax or plastic impressions of patient's amputated area, prepare a mould from the impression, and pour molten plastic into mould to form the cosmetic appliances, such as artificial ear, leg, or hand. Next, they assemble the layers of padding over the prosthesis to fit and attach the outer covering, which could be leather or fiberglass. When the appliance is ready to be painted, they mix paints to find the right pigmentation color and then polish the finished device, using grinding and buffing wheels.

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

Similar to their orthotic technician cousins, who make braces and supports, prosthetic technicians are in the business of making artificial limbs. In fact, orthotic and prosthetic technicians follow basically the same procedures in their work although each deals with different abnormalities, designs, and patients. Prosthetic technicians may specialize in prosthetics or orthotics, or work on both types of appliances.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Prosthetic technicians need to have precise manual dexterity, strength, stamina, and patience to create artificial prostheses. 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. Prosthetic 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 prosthetic and 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
  • Prosthetic 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, prosthetic technicians may be under pressure to meet deadlines, while at other times the workload may be quite light.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Prosthetic 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 prosthetic 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 prosthetists. Also, they could teach at technical institutes on how to build and finish prostheses. 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, prosthetic technicians usually require a two-year college program in prosthetics and orthotics along with one to two years of supervised practical training. Alternatively, prosthetic 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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