If you ever tear up your knee on the ski slope or wear out your wrists at the computer, there's a good chance you'll see an orthopedic surgeon. They're doctors who specialize in treating conditions related to your skeleton and joints, and the ligaments and muscles that hold them in place. Many of these surgeons employ orthopedic technologists, sometimes called orthopedic technicians, to help them in their work. The technologists handle routine duties that don't require a surgeon's skills, and are often board-certified in their own right.
What They Do
Keeping joints and bones properly aligned while they heal, and preventing further injury, is one of the big issues in orthopedics. It's also the main duty of orthopedic technologists, who spend much of their time fitting patients with appropriate casts and splints. These might be old-fashioned plaster casts, modern synthetics, or lightweight inflatable air splints. Each patient's cast has to be custom-fitted, which requires considerable expertise. They also need to be gently and carefully removed at the appropriate time. Technologists might also apply traction to keep a bone straight as it begins to set, or even assist during surgery.
Orthopedic technologists can practice without certification, but earning credentials can be a good career move. It shows a potential employer that you're both competent and committed, because you can't maintain your certification unless you meet the requirements for continuing education. Certification for orthopedic technologists is administered by the National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Technologists, or NBCOT. There are two separate certifications available. The Orthopaedic Technologist -- Certified, or OTC, is for technologists who work primarily on splinting and casting. The Orthopaedic Technologist -- Surgery Certified, or OT-SC, applies to technologists who also assist with orthopedic surgeries.
Earning the OTC
There are three ways to launch a career in orthopedic technology. One is to learn on the job, spending at least two years working with an orthopedic surgeon. The second option is to graduate from a training program approved by the National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists. Programs not recognized by NAOT are also acceptable, but candidates have to prove that they received an equivalent education. A third option is certification as a sports trainer, which requires similar training. Candidates must pass a rigorous multiple-choice exam, offered four times each year, to become board-certified.
Earning the OT-CS
Lots of hospitals and clinics use specially trained technologists to help out during surgical procedures. They lay out and organize the surgeon's instruments, prepare the sterile area of the operating room, count the sponges and pads, and generally assist as they're needed. The OT-CS credential is for currently board-certified OTCs who have added these surgical skills to their repertoire. They're also responsible for pre-operative and post-operative care, in addition to their usual splinting and casting duties. To earn their OT-CS certification, technologists must pass an exam covering their pre- and post-operative work, their tasks during surgery, and their legal and ethical obligations.
- National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists: What Is an Orthopaedic Technologist?
- National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Technologists: OTC Candidate Handbook
- National Board for Certification of Orthopaedic Technologists: OT-SC Candidate Handbook
- American Medical Association: Health Care Careers Directory -- Surgical Technologist
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.