There are various ways in which someone can serve the O&P community. One may choose to become an O&P practitioner (orthotist, prosthetist, or orthotist/prosthetist), pedorthist, assistant, fitter, or technician. The educational pathways for each option are outlined in this section. Specific responsibilities for O&P professionals are explained in more detail in the "Entering the Profession" section.
Beginning in January 2013, master's degree in O&P will become the minimum educational standard to become a certified practitioner. Currently, there are nine active master's degree programs and four more are set to start in 2013, according to the National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE).
The O&P profession has evolved over the past several decades with both the increased use of advanced technology and strides toward establishing its practitioners as healthcare professionals rather than technicians who fabricate devices. As this evolution occurred, O&P professions reached a consensus that the educational standards for becoming an orthotist or prosthetist should be increased.
It is believed that the professional master's degree will provide orthotic and prosthetic graduates with improved skills, knowledge, and ability to critically appraise evidence from clinical research and to integrate such evidence with clinical expertise and patient values. The ABC practice analysis seems to support these skills and knowledge attributes as common practice for the contemporary O&P practitioner. O&P schools are challenged to effectively manage this content with the current curriculum. This is mainly due to the constraints of the current program length both at the bachelor's and post-baccalaureate certificate level.
All of the master's degree programs will educate students in the core knowledge and skills required of both an orthotist and a prosthetist. NCOPE's new educational standards—adopted in 2010—do not limit schools to a specific format or length but instead require that they meet the standards and cover all aspects of the curriculum guide. Some schools require a baccalaureate degree prior to the two-year master's program (often described as a four plus two structure). Others may offer a three plus two structure, with three years of general education and then two years of O&P coursework. Other schools may offer a different format. The lengths of the master's programs vary, though they are typically between 12 and 24 months, depending on their configuration.
To view a list of O&P master's program, visit www.opcareers.org/op_programs/practitioners.asp.