Few opportunities exist for people without training to get paid part-time or summer work in the orthotics and prosthetics field. Your first actual exposure to the work will probably be as part of a supervised training program or a clinical experience in a formal degree program. You can find out more about this kind of work by volunteering in a rehabilitation center or hospital with an orthotics and prosthetics department. On such a visit, you can see technicians at work and perhaps talk with them about what their jobs are like. Volunteering will also demonstrate your sincere interest in the field to training program admissions officers and future employers.
To find an orthotic and prosthetic professional near you, go to http://www.opcareers.org. On the homepage there is a link to "Talk to an O&P Professional in Your Area." These individuals will answer your questions or provide an opportunitiy to come in and see them at work.
You can also become familiar with the field by reading about it. For example, you might want to read an issue of or even subscribe to the O&P Almanac (https://www.aopanet.org/publications/op-almanac-magazine), a magazine published by the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association that covers business, government, and professional news concerning the industry.
The work of orthotic and prosthetic technicians is similar to that of the skilled craftsworker. They usually have very limited contact with patients, spending most of their time working on the orthotic and prosthetic devices. They read the diagrams and specifications drawn up by the orthotist or prosthetist to determine the device to be built and what materials and tools are needed.
Technicians often make models, or casts, of patients' features to use in building the devices. They rely on these models when making plastic cosmetic replacements, such as ears, noses, or hands, and also in fitting artificial limbs to the patient's residual limbs. To make these models, technicians use a wax or plastic impression of a patient's amputated area. They make a mold from the impression and pour plaster into the mold to make the cast. Technicians then may carve, grind, or build up parts of the model to create the most compatible match.
In building orthotic devices, technicians bend, weld, and cut pieces of metal or plastic in order to shape them into the structural components of the device. To do this, they use hammers, anvils, welding equipment, and saws. They drill and tap rivets (permanent mechanical fasteners) into the components to put the pieces together.
To ensure a proper fit of the device when finished, they often shape the plastic or metal parts around the cast model of the patient's torso or limbs. When the basic structure of the device has been assembled, they cover and pad the structure, using layers of rubber, felt, plastic, and leather. To build the component parts of prosthetic devices, technicians cut, carve, and grind wood, plastic, metal, and fabric. They may use rotary saws, cutting machines, and hand cutting tools. They drill and tap holes for rivets and screws; glue, bolt, weld, sew, and rivet parts together; and cover the prosthesis with layers of padding.
When prosthetic technicians finish building the basic device, they fit it with an outer covering, using sewing machines, riveting guns, and hand tools. When necessary, they mix pigments to duplicate the skin coloring of the patients, and they apply the pigments to the outer coverings of the prosthesis.
Both orthotic and prosthetic technicians must test their devices for freedom of movement, alignment of parts, and functional stability. They must also repair and maintain orthotic and prosthetic devices as directed by the orthotist or prosthetist.
Like orthotic and prosthetic technicians, arch-support technicians work with plaster casts. These are supplied by podiatrists, orthotists, and prosthetists. Working from these models, technicians determine the shape and size of the support to be built. They select stainless steel sheets of the correct thickness and cut the sheets to the necessary size. They hammer the steel in prescribed contours to form the support and check the accuracy of the fit against the model. They also polish the support with abrasive polishing wheels, glue protective leather pieces to it, and rivet additional leather pieces to it for additional patient comfort.