If you’re ready to change patients’ lives and you like art, math, science, technology and of course health care, consider orthotics and prosthetics or O&P.
These traits help predict success in O&P: strong interpersonal skills, passion for helping others, excellent hand skills, compassion, problem-solving abilities, creativity and dedication. You’ll learn so much more at OP Careers from the American Academy of Orthotists & Prosthetists, and the field is projected to grow.
If the following three reasons sound appealing to you a career in O&P will probably be a good fit.
You’ll get a high level of instant gratification
Orthotics is the evaluation, fabrication, and custom fitting of orthopedic braces known as orthoses. Prosthetics involves artificial limbs or prostheses. In pedorthics, for example, the focus is on footwear or foot orthoses. So there is plenty to analyze, assess and activate against in this industry.
“You’ll use a wide skill set in one of a few health care professions that affords direct patient contact with a regular work schedule and the ability to enjoy family life,” says Lydia Middleton, executive director at the AAOP.
Then there’s immediate gratification.
“A patient may enter a prosthetist’s or orthotist’s office unable to walk and later leave walking,” she says. “O&P professionals have a profound, immediate and visible effect on patients and their families.”
You’ll become a strategist
“I get to use my biomechanics and physiology knowledge with a patient,” says Tyler Cook, relatively new to the profession. A graduate of Northwestern University, he’s a resident at Ability Prosthetics and Orthotics in its Frederick, Maryland location.
To get prepped, Cook spent time working in physical therapy as an aide—no degree required—and he developed patient care skills. Later he shadowed someone in O&P.
His employer doesn’t make devices on site, but modifies them, which is atypical, he says.
“This feels like more where this field is going,” he says. “We’re becoming actual clinicians versus technicians, which also affords us more patient time.”
Don’t confuse this profession with one that provides durable medical equipment—wheelchairs and walkers—he suggests. “It’s great that the public and other health care professionals are seeing O&P professionals as actual practitioners, part of a treatment team, and not just a provider of braces.”
You can easily move into the field
“With a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, I decided I no longer wanted to go to medical school as I once did,” recalls 15-year professional Michelle Hall at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, Minnesota. “I knew orthopedic surgery wasn’t for me, but that I wanted to help people and still work with the orthopedic population. The physical therapy career field was saturated, and I wanted a life away from work.”
Among other patients, Hall works with babies’ foot deformities such as clubfoot, when the foot is twisted. “After several weeks of casting, you may never know the child had a problem,” she says.