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Guide to studying Prosthetics & Orthotics

Prosthetists and orthotists use the latest technology to transform the lives of patients who need an artificial limb or device. See what it’s like to study the area, and if the career is for you.

Technological Prosthetic Robot Arm is Tested by Two Professional Development Engineers

CONTENTS

  1. What's Prosthetics & Orthotics?

  2. Why study Prosthetics & Orthotics?

  3. What qualifications do you need to study Prosthetics & Orthotics? 

  4. What degrees can you study?

  5. How will you be assessed?

  6. What are the postgraduate opportunities?

  7. What jobs can you get with a degree in Prosthetics & Orthotics?
  8. What do graduates do and earn?

  9. How to become a prosthetist or orthotist​

What’s Prosthetics & Orthotics?

Prosthetics & Orthotics help people with their ability to move their bodies freely usingf technology.

Prosthetists design and fit artificial limbs for patients who've lost them through amputation or were missing them at birth.

Orthotists create and fit surgical devices like splints and braces to existing body parts. This helps correct issues or deformities in bones, muscles or nerves. 

Solutions can be temporary or permanent, and help to relieve pain, improve movement or prevent physical issues from becoming worse.

Why study Prosthetics & Orthotics?

During a Prosthetics & Orthotics course, you’ll learn how to assess and treat patients effectively. This area of healthcare can drastically improve peoples’ quality of life. You could help someone stand, walk or even run again. You might even prevent patients from having limbs amputated.

As well as technical expertise, skills you’ll develop during a Prosthetics & Orthotics course include:

  • Communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Manual dexterity
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving

Courses involve a mix of theoretical, practical and clinical learning. You’ll spend time in placements gaining real experience with real patients. University facilities tend to be industry-standard, giving you the training needed for a career as a prosthetist or orthotist.

It’s an ideal course and career for those who are practical as well as imaginative. The area is rewarding and exciting as technology is always advancing and coming up with new ways to improve lives. You’ll also work with people from a variety of backgrounds.

Courses are usually to the standard of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), so you can register to practise after you graduate. Qualifications are widely recognised in Europe and throughout the world, meaning there’s opportunities for working overseas.

The NHS Learning Support Fund is currently offering £5,000 per year to support Prosthetics & Orthotics degree students in England and Wales. This is a grant, so you don’t have to pay it back.

What qualifications do you need to study Prosthetics & Orthotics? 

To study for an undergraduate degree in Prosthetics & Orthotics, you’ll usually need two or three A Levels. These should be in Maths, Biology, Engineering or Physics. You’ll also need five GCSEs with grades C and above. These should include Science, Maths and English.

Other equivalent qualifications include relevant BTEC, HND, HNC, NVQ, Highers and Access courses.

Each university has specific entry requirements, so make sure to check with the institution and course you’re interested in.

Tips for applying

Universities often look beyond academic qualifications – they want someone who'll communicate well and make sure patients feel comfortable with their treatment. Try to demonstrate your compassion and desire to improve patient wellbeing as well as practical and technical abilities.

Most courses include practical experiences with members of the public, so you’ll probably have to complete a DBS disclosure check for criminal records.

What degrees can you study?

The Prosthetics and Orthotics BSc course is currently only available at:

  • University of Salford (three years)
  • University of Strathclyde (four years)

These courses involve a mix of lectures, tutorials, practical sessions, group work, placements and self-directed study.

Degree apprenticeships are sometimes available, where you can work and earn at the same time as gaining a degree. You usually have to apply through an employer, and you don’t have access to student grants.

During the coronavirus pandemic, courses have had to adapt to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. This just means the way they're delivered is slightly different. For instance, teaching groups may be smaller and there may be more online learning.

How will you be assessed?

Assessment comes in a variety of methods such as exams, coursework, clinical tests, presentations and project work.

What are the postgraduate opportunities?

Some graduates of Prosthetics & Orthotics continue their studies and become specialists in certain areas. Postgraduate degree options include an MSc in Prosthetics and Orthotics.

What jobs can you get with a degree in Prosthetics & Orthotics?

You could become a prosthetist or orthotist in a hospital or clinical environment. This could be with the NHS, privately or commercially. With experience, you can become more senior, manage teams or specialise in a certain area. Students often go into research and teaching.

Specialisms include:

  • Diabetes
  • Forensic podiatry
  • Arthritis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Children
  • Sports injury
  • Dental

What do graduates do and earn?

In the infographic below, the first table shows what graduates of Prosthetics & Orthotics have gone on to do in the months after their graduation.

The second table shows the average salaries of undergraduate Prosthetics & Orthotics students entering employment. The three skill levels – high, medium and low – reflect the UK's Standard Occupational Classification's major groups 1–3, 4–6 and 7–9 respectively.

Source: HESA Graduate Outcomes Survey 2017/18

How to become a prosthetist or orthotist

You’ll have to successfully complete a degree in Prosthetics & Orthotics, approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). After graduating, you can register to practise professionally.

What it's like to work as a prosthetist or orthotist

You could be working in a rehabilitation centre or across wards in a hospital or health centre. The role may involve travelling to patients’ homes and special needs centres. Daily tasks could include:

  • Assessing, diagnosing and treating patients
  • Designing and fitting surgical devices
  • Working with and checking up on rehabilitating patients
  • Taking measurements and using computer modelling
  • Making sure limbs and devices are comfortable and working well
  • Repairing and adjusting appliances

You could be working alongside technicians and other healthcare professionals such as amputation surgeons. Your patients will be diverse – from children with cerebral palsy to military veterans.

After qualifying you’ll have Continuing Professional Development (CPD) check-ins, where you discuss your career and future goals. You can become a member of organisations like the British Association of Prosthetists and Orthotists (BAPO), where you can take courses, network and attend events.

A working week is typically 37.5 hours, and you may have to work evenings and weekends. Salaries for prosthetics and orthotists are on the Agenda for Change system (the NHS staff grading and pay scale), usually on band 5. As an NHS worker, you’ll have access to generous pension schemes, holiday allowances and health service discounts.

Is a prosthetist or orthotist role right for you?

You’ll need good mathematical, practical and technical skills. Work can get physical as you'll use your hands a lot when adjusting prostheses or aids.

There are jobs around the UK, but you may have to relocate to find appropriate work. The role may also involve a lot of travel. You may work with patients recovering from traumatic incidences, which can be both challenging and rewarding.

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