Imagine if you could help someone walk again. Imagine seeing them going back to their regular lives, thanks to your skills. That’s the kind of satisfaction orthotists and prosthetists get from their jobs.
The demand for professionals in this field in Canada is growing, according to Dan Blocka, coordinator of the orthotics and prosthetics programs at George Brown College in Toronto. As more people enter the field and the healthcare sector recognizes how their skills can help patients across the country, the prospects for orthotists and prosthetists are looking bright. And with Canada’s aging population, which will see an increase in the number of people with chronic disabilities, a certified graduate who is able to relocate will never be out of work.
There are two English-language colleges with prosthetics programs – George Brown College and the British Columbia Institute of Technology. George Brown’s Clinical Methods Program teaches students to work as part of the rehabilitation team, assessing and creating devices for patients. Students join the program from a variety of undergraduate programs – particularly health sciences and human movement – but the college has also enrolled engineers and in some cases arts grads with a particular interest in the field.
After leaving college, a prosthetist or orthotist completes a two-year paid internship at a clinic, after which he or she takes certification exams. Once certified, they normally stay on at that clinic, but their careers can take varied paths in the years to come: perhaps becoming a senior clinician at that facility, opening up their own clinic or even moving to the commercial side of the field – working with companies that supply the parts orthotists and prosthetists use.
Kieran Bliss is a certified prosthetist working at a clinic in Oshawa, ON after graduating from George Brown. He says the long-term relationships that he is able to build with patients are the most rewarding part of his work. “My patients are incredible people, they do incredible things,” he says. “Dealing with the people I deal with is the best part.”
As well as consulting with patients, Bliss also designs and modifies prostheses. He says he likes the design aspect, as his undergrad degree was in biological engineering. “Every socket I make is a prototype because every leg is different,” he says.
Becki Petrie is on the path to becoming a certified orthotist, working as an orthotic intern at a clinic in Mississauga, ON. She says the best part of the job the variety of patients she sees, meaning she has to design various braces. “Things are always new and variety keeps it interesting,” she says. “This requires me to be consistently thinking outside the box.”
“It also requires the orthotist to be creative, have good hand skills and combine and apply science and art together.”
New technologies are in the pipeline that will further improve patients’ lives. A computerized knee, for example, will allow quite normalized walking patterns in conditions that were unthinkable 15 years ago, according to Blocka. And the connection between the neural system and the prosthetic or orthotic component is being developed, which will allow a much more natural way to control movement of the devices.
Competition to join an orthotics and prosthetics program is quite fierce. Both Bliss and Petrie advise students considering the field to spend some time in a clinic to find out what it’s really like. That kind of volunteer experience will also help you get accepted into a program. For those who do follow that path, a fulfilling career awaits. “For you to be able to take someone who is not mobile, and with your skill set to be able to have them stand and walk normally – and to see someone return to their normal lives – is a huge reward,” says Blocka. jp