An orthotist is a certified health care professional who works with doctors to make and fit braces and splints for patients. They custom fit braces for patients who have spine or limb injuries, as well as those who are born with or develop deformities to the feet, limbs, or spine. Orthotists are responsible for taking into consideration each patient's unique situation and medical needs.
Orthotists work with a variety of health care professionals to prescribe appropriate braces and splints for their patients. To fit one patient, an orthotist will typically meet with the patient's doctor, podiatrist, and physical therapist. The orthotist will also work with a technician, who assists with with many aspects of the brace or splint fitting. A patient must have a prescription from a physician to receive care or services from an orthotist.
The orthotist suggests the appropriate ortheses based on the needs of the patient. The first step in suggesting an orthosis is a medical evaluation. An orhtotist must take in to consideration a person's medical situation, as well as the daily activities of a patient, and use these when justifying any recommendation to the general physician. Types of orthosis include fabricated splints, custom footwear, insoles, back braces, neck braces, and surgical supports.
Working as an orthotist requires a great deal of manual dexterity and creativity, as he or she will often first create a plaster cast to be able to see how the orthotic device will work with a patient's limb. Technicians usually build the device, and their work is supervised by the orthotist. The orthotist will fit the device for the patient and describe how to use it. Often times, they will also suggest physical therapy in order to get the most functionality out of the device.
Orhtotists often have an ongoing relationship with each patient. After a patient has been prescribed and fitted an orthosis, there will be a period of time when monitoring takes place. Monitoring by the orthotist is done to ensure that the prescription fits well, is functioning as it should, and to recognize any problems caused by the orthosis. At times it may be necessary for an orthotic device to be altered or improved. This can be done without a prescription; however, any major changes to a prescription must first be approved by a patient's general physician.
Though training officially begins as an adult, there are high school courses that can help prepare a future orthotist for a career in this field. Courses in biology, chemistry, and physics are essential, and if provided the opportunity, computer science should be included in course work. After high school there are a number of different routes that can be taken to become a certified orthotist.
Some colleges offer undergraduate programs that will lead to a diploma in orthotics. There are also certification programs for people who are earning, or have already earned, a bachelor's degree in a different major. Education requirements vary by country, and the aforementioned route to certification applies only to US requirements, and those governed by the American Board for Certification in Orhtotics and Prosthetics (ABC).
Certified orthotists work in various settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and industrial health centers. Many orthotists have their own private practices where patients visit on an outpatient basis. A career as an orthotist can be a very rewarding one, as orthotists have flexibility to work in different settings, own their own business, and improve the lives of patients of all different ages and backgrounds.