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When bad accidents happen and diseases attack the human body, people are sometimes faced with losing a limb. Many war veterans also mistakenly step on land mines or get injured in combat, with the same results. The loss of a limb, such as an arm or leg can be very disabling for people, especially when they must learn to live with the disability. However, there are solutions to help people in these situations. Prosthetists design, make and fit appliances for missing limbs on the basis of a doctor's prescription.

Similar to their orthotist cousins, who make braces and supports, prosthetists are in the business of making artificial limbs. In fact, orthotists and prosthetists follow basically the same procedures in their work although each deals with different abnormalities, designs, and patients. Prosthetists may specialize in prosthetics or orthotics, or work on both types of appliances.

Prosthetists are unique paramedical health professionals as they provide biomechanical devices to physically disabled persons to enable them to function better. Once a doctor writes a prescription, the patient visits the prosthetist who then designs the appliance that has been prescribed. The clinician takes the measurements and moulds necessary to fabricate the artificial limb. For example, if the appliance prescribed is an artificial leg, the prosthetist must design one based on the proper length, shoe size, width and other important factors.

Prosthetists also make plaster casts of the limbs that the prosthesis will be attached to. This is necessary to make sure that the new appliances fit properly and cause as little discomfort as possible. Once the prosthetist and patient determine the design and materials, prosthetists will supervise technicians while they build the appliances. When the prosthesis is ready, the prosthetist then fits the device, and makes any adjustments necessary to ensure optimal functional use by the patient. They might provide counseling on how to use the appliance and recommend therapy.

Prosthetists work together with orthotists, physicians, surgeons, physical and occupational therapists and social workers to form a multi-disciplinary team to provide the most comprehensive care possible for each individual. Prosthetists frequently recommend possible designs or different types of components for use in an prosthesis based on their knowledge, experience and familiarity with a wide range of technology and device designs that are available.

Many prosthetists now work with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD and CAM) programs. These computer programs enable them to design new limbs without going through the traditional step of taking a plaster cast of the amputated limb. This not only saves time and money, but allows the prosthetist to try out several samples for an individual person.
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American Career College

American Career College (ACC) offers hands-on training that will prepare students for careers in the healthcare industry at three campuses in Los Angeles, Ontario, and Orange County, California.

Programs Offered:
  • Associate of Occupational Science in Surgical Technology
  • Medical Assistant



  Interests and Skills  
Prosthetists must have good manual dexterity and a mechanical aptitude for design and creation. They enjoy working with tools, instruments and machinery that require concentration and precision. They have excellent communication skills and can work with a variety of people from clients to physicians. They are organized people with good time management skills. Finally, they are creative and imaginative problem solvers.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Provide care to patients with partial or total absence of limb by planning and fitting prosthesis under guidance of and in consultation with a physician
  • Review prescriptions which specify the types of appliances or limbs to be made
  • Examine the patient's affected area for factors which could affect the fitting of artificial limbs and appliances
  • Measure, make, and correct a plaster cast of the limb
  • Design, build, fit and repair prosthetic appliances which will function best in meeting the patient's need and fit for comfort, alignment or appearance
  • Evaluate prosthesis on a patient and make adjustments to assure fit, function, comfort, and quality
  • Select appropriate materials and components and give the specifications of the limb or brace to the technician
  • Make a limb or brace that requires special attention
  • Counsel patients on the use of the device
  • Provide routine maintenance and repair of devices
  • Maintain accurate patient records
  • Supervise and direct the activities of prosthetic and orthotic technicians
  • Prosthetists work in a variety of settings, including hospital rooms, clinics, laboratories, work rooms and fitting rooms. They work directly with clients developing specifications for fabrication. Usually, they work a standard five-day workweek, but some weekend work may be required for emergency cases.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Prosthetists 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). Some prosthetists set up their own companies and work independently.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for prosthetists? Since the training is very specific, advancement will take the form of moving into supervisory or management positions. Also, prosthetists could teach at universities and technical institutes on prosthesis technology. It is also possible to go into rehabilitation counseling or consulting. Otherwise, they could work in pharmaceutical and prosthetics sales, dental technology or other professions that require skilled work with the hands.

  Educational Paths  
Prosthetists are required to take a two-year college program in prosthetics and orthotics technology followed by two years of supervised practical training. When you finish the internship, you must pass a three-day exam, which has theoretical, practical and clinical components.

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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