Prosthetics Designer  What They Do

Just the Facts


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dotProsthetics designers fit artificial limbs for people who have lost their arms or legs, or who were born with missing limbs. After assessing the needs of the patient, they either fabricate the artificial limb or develop specifications for a technician. In all cases, they work closely with doctors, physical therapists and others in rehabilitative medicine.

dotThe dawning of the computer age has had a huge impact on the profession. Many designers are now working with computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing (CAD and CAM) programs. These programs enable them to create new limbs without going through the traditional step of taking a plaster cast of the amputated limb.

"You've eliminated a step, which makes it much more-cost efficient," says Mark Edwards, director of prosthetics education at Northwestern University in Chicago. "The computer allows you to manipulate the shape to make it more uniform in feel in the pressure areas."

dotPolitical changes to the health-care industry are also impacting the profession, says Elaine Uellendahl, a certified prosthetics designer and clinical instructor at Northwestern.

"With all the cutbacks with health care, the field might get more back to the basics," she says. This might mean moving away from the high-tech field.

dotDespite these seemingly conflicting pressures, the job prospects are enormous in the United States. Universities and colleges can't graduate students fast enough to keep up with the demand.

dotOne of the new areas for employment is on the international scene. Prosthetics designers are needed to fit new limbs for the thousands of people who are crippled by land mines.

"That's had a big impact on the amputee population," says Edwards. "Countries are using land mines to literally cripple a society which often doesn't have proper care or training for the people injured."

At a Glance

Fit artificial limbs for people

  • Many designers now use computer programs rather than plaster to design limbs
  • They work closely with doctors and physical therapists
  • Three universities in the U.S. offer bachelor's degrees in prosthetics