Orthotist and Prosthetist

Orthotics and Prosthetics is an allied health profession that provides evaluation, fabrication and custom fitting of artificial limbs and orthopedic braces.

O&P Professionals are specialists within the rehabilitation or care team for patients with disabling conditions.

Further Information

Who Provides O&P Care?

The profession includes O&P practitioners (Certified Orthotists and Certified Prosthetists), technicians and assisting professionals all of who are specifically trained in O&P. While it is not unusual for allied health professionals to cross-train (for example many prosthetists/orthotists are often involved in physical or occupational therapy), it is critical to note that there is specific training and education, as well as professional certification, for qualified O&P providers.

An O&P Practitioner is an allied health professional who provides comprehensive orthotic and prosthetic care, including patient assessment, formulation of a treatment plan, implementation of the treatment plan, follow-up, and practice management.

Orthotists evaluate and design orthoses (braces), and fit those needing protective support or correction due to muscle /bone impairment, disease or deformity. They work to restore mobility to the patient and to prevent or limit disability.

Prosthetists evaluate, design, and fabricate prostheses (artificial limbs). They work with those who have amputations due to accidents, congenital birth problems, or disabling diseases, restoring physiological function and/or cosmesis.

Assisting Professionals include those that fabricate, repair and maintain orthoses/prostheses as well as those who assist in fitting and in patient care.

Who is Served by the O&P Market?

More than 35 million (1 in 8) have disabling conditions that interfere with life activities and 16 percent of those individuals reported an orthopedic impairment. In 1990, more than 3.5 million persons in the U.S. were using some kind of orthosis, more than a 100 percent increase since 1980. By 2020, research predicts the demand for provider services is expected to increase by 25 percent for orthotic care and 47 percent for prosthetic care.

* Based on the National Health Interview Survey (Nielsen, May 2002) & Issues Affecting the Future Demand for Orthotists and Prosthetists (Caroline Nielsen PhD, May 2002).

How Many O&P Professionals Serve this Market?

There is no central source on the number of professionals or facilities, however the oldest and largest credentialing body, the American Board for Certification in Orthotics and Prosthetics (ABC), has issued credentials to more than 5,000 patient care practitioners, 2,800 assisting professionals, and 1,250 patient care facilities in the US (March 2005).

Who Regulates this Market?

Unlike many other health professions, there is not one regulatory body or national standard. Therefore, individual states are left to pursue licensure independent of federal regulation. As licensure is limited to only 8 states, the profession itself has established credentialing programs to provide an independent standard of competency for practitioners and facilities.

O&P Practice Information

The O&P Practitioner is an allied health professional who is specifically educated and clinically trained to provide or manage the provision of comprehensive orthotic (braces) and prosthetic (artificial limbs) care, based upon a clinical assessment and a physician's prescription, to restore physiological function and/or cosmesis.

The Scope of Work

Education, residency, and training prepare the certified practitioner to handle complete patient care including:

Patient Assessment
Perform a comprehensive assessment of the patient to obtain an understanding of patient's orthotic/prosthetic needs.

Formulation of the Treatment Plan
Create a comprehensive orthotic/prosthetic treatment plan to meet the needs and goals of the patient.

Implementation of the Treatment Plan
Perform the necessary procedures to deliver the appropriate orthotic/prosthetic services, including fabrication.

Follow-up Treatment Plan
Provide continuing patient care and periodic evaluation to assure/maintain/document optimal fit and function of the orthosis/prosthesis.

Practice Management
Develop, implement, and/or monitor policies and procedures regarding human resource management, physical environment management, business/financial management, and organizational management.

Promotion of Competency and Enhancement of Professional Practice
Participate in personal and professional development through continuing education, training, research, and organizational affiliations.

For a detailed look at the O&P practice scope, view the Practice Analysis of the Disciplines of Orthotics and Prosthetics.

Education & Training, Residency & Examinations

The traditional educational pathway to certification for O&P practitioners requires that individuals obtain:

  • A baccalaureate degree in orthotics and prosthetics -or-
  • A baccalaureate degree in any major and an orthotics or prosthetics certificate from a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited program -and-
  • A 12-month residency program accredited through the www.ncope.org.

Alternately, some practitioners pursue a pathway to certification requiring collegiate course work in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Human Anatomy and Physiology along with extensive clinical work.

The NCOPE Residency program completes the education of an orthotist or prosthetist by teaching the fundamental skills necessary in practice. The residency program is twelve months per discipline.

The examination process for ABC certified practitioners consists of three separate tests: A written exam, written simulation exam, and practical exam. In 2004, approximately 65% of all candidates passed the prosthetics exams, and 73% passed the orthotics exams.

ABC-certified practitioners complete ongoing mandatory continuing education to meet two continual demands: 1) to maintain performance at the basic level of professional competence; and, 2) to advance training and specialized skills beyond the basic level. ABC requires a minimum of 75 continuing education credits with two-thirds earned in scientific study to meet recertification. For more information on education and training for CP and CO, visit the ABC website.

For information on licensure and mandated requirements, go to O&P Credentialing & Licensing.

Practice Arena

O&P practitioners work in:

  • Privately- or publicly-owned multi-facility orthotic and prosthetic service organizations
  • Privately-owned single-location facilities
  • Hospital-based practice
  • Specialty clinics
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • University and research facilities

Many facilities seek professional accreditation as both a measure of its adherence to accepted operating practices and to assure continual improvement of patient care services.

Assisting Professionals

Practitioners are supported by trained professionals who assist in fabricating, repairing and maintaining orthoses/prostheses as well as in fitting and patient care. For more information on fitters, technicians and assistants, visit the ABC website or check out career info at opcareers.org.

Media Contact
Tom Derrick
American Board for Certification in Orthotics & Prosthetics
703-836-7114, ext. 224

Last updated: Octoboer 2006