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Career Profile: Medical Appliance Technician

Career Profile: Medical Appliance Technician

Ron Dickey, Medical Appliance Technician, Prosthetic Orthotic Technician, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.

National Institutes of Health: Office of Science Education

What I like best/least about my work…

What I like best about my work is the need to perceive and visualize a prosthetic or orthotic device as finished to specifications, even before the job starts. To do this, I ask a number of questions. Will the device I make provide the proper range of motion or the support and stability intended? Are there any structural or cosmetic concerns that may need to be identified in the selection of materials? Do I have the correct pigments to mix-and-match a patient’s skin color? Will the location of any suspension aids get in the way of activities, such as riding a bicycle? Does the person plan to go swimming, rock climbing, or play a guitar? Is there a tool that exists to fix an unseen problem, or do I have the time to invent one and prove it will work before four o’clock? Patients are no different than you or I. Outward appearances usually define a job well done, so I always consider the question, “Would I wear it?”

There are many aspects of my work that I find attractive and interesting. Be it bending a metal leg brace for a delicate fit on a child, or laminating a composite socket for an adult amputee to run and finish a race, the results are always encouraging.

What's Your Nightmare Healthcare Career?

1. When it comes to being in charge, you:

Love it. You love to give orders!
Think its okay. You are comfortable as a leader or a follower.
Hate it. You would rather take direction than give it.

What I like least about my work is keeping the lab clean, safe, and productive. Most orthotic/prosthetic labs are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, such as exhaust hoods for the use of glues and resins, or dust collectors for grinders and routers. Nothing is more reliable than the old-fashioned safety glasses or ear protection for that errant rivet that may come flying off an anvil, or the droning pitch of the many different machines that a technician uses.

Some aspects of my job are routine and time-consuming, but never-the-less important. Whether it’s machine maintenance, keeping the lab free of debris, keeping things in an organized manner, or spending time on the phone ordering supplies and keeping records. It all comes together when a patient returns for his or her new leg, arm, shoe or brace, and leaves with a smile.

My career goals are…

My career goals are to continue to learn from the best and the brightest people that work in the field and to take advantage of the many educational opportunities available through accredited institutions and trade organizations. My plan of attack, for the next two years, is to advance with on-the-job experience and to study the educational requirements for becoming a registered American Board Certified Orthotic Prosthetic Assistant. I may decide to return to school for a bachelors degree, and go on to apply for certification as a prosthetic practitioner.

The field of orthotics and prosthetics has come a long way from the days of birch bark corsets and peg legs. Today’s achievements are nothing short of miraculous. However, the need for more research and development to better understand the psyche and physique of an ever-growing population in need of our service and improved appliances, is wide open.

Find out more about Medical Appliance Technician careers!

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