Combine your hands-on tendencies with a career in health care and you may just find yourself working with patients as an orthopedic technician, or OT. With a bit of specialized training, including hands-on work, you can be working side-by-side with surgeons as the action unfolds. Orthopedic technology is one of a number of allied health professions developed to assist physicians and nurses in caring for patients. Orthopedic technologists usually work in orthopedic clinics, hospitals, outpatient surgery centers and skilled nursing facilities.
Although many OTs get their training on the job, many receive training at one of the seven orthopedic technology programs in the United States that are recognized by the National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists, or NAOT. A NAOT-approved program offers the advantage of a standardized program, so you can be sure it will cover all of the aspects you need to know. A NAOT-approved program must offer 450 hours of classroom and laboratory instruction, as well as a clinical rotation -- or externship -- of 200 hours. You may receive either a diploma or an associate degree, depending on the program.
During their training, OTs learn to be experts in the construction, application and removal of casts, using both plaster and synthetic materials. In addition, the OT prepares or sets up traction devices; assesses patients in traction to ensure that the desired effect is obtained; and makes adjustments as necessary. OTs learn to fit and adjust canes, crutches and walkers, and instruct patients in their use. They also apply braces and prosthetic devices, and fabricate splints. Working directly with patients, an OT educates them about skin issues as they relate to orthopedic care and to care for a cast or brace to prevent it from deteriorating.
One of the most important tasks that OTs must learn is how to support the surgeon in the operating room. Before surgery, the OT works with the surgical team to set up equipment and supplies. Orthopedic surgeons use a special table called a fracture table or orthopedic surgical table for many procedures. The OT sets up and prepares this table. In addition, OTs may act as the first assistant to the orthopedic surgeon, helping to expose the wound, insert hardware or stop bleeding. They must learn sterile technique and be very familiar with human anatomy.
Certification and Salaries
Although OTs are not required to be licensed, certification is available from NAOT. If you chose a NAOT-approved program for your education, you are eligible to take the qualifying exams when you graduate. OTs who get their training through on-the-job programs must have two years of full-time training under the direct supervision of a physician who specializes in the musculoskeletal system to qualify for the exam. A certified OT uses the initials “OTC” after her signature. Non-certified OT earnings in 2010 ranged from $34,104 a year for beginners to $40,896 a year for OTs with six to 10 years of experience, according to the Medical Careers Institute at Coordinated Health. Certified OTs may earn as much as $10,000 more annually.
- National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists: What is an Orthopaedic Technologist?
- National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists: NAOT Recognized Schools and Programs
- National Association of Orthopaedic Technologists: Certification
- Steris: Amsco® OrthoVision® Orthopedic Surgical Table
- The Medical Careers Institute: Orthopedic Technology Diploma Programs
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.