There is a growing need for orthotic and prosthetic professionals. Since 1973 the U.S. Department of Education has identified O&P training as a national priority with a practitioner deficit. The demand for provider services is expected to increase by 25 percent for orthotic care and 47 percent for prosthetic care by 2020. This practitioner shortage means more demand than ever for graduates of the nation's O&P education programs. Without an increase in the number of O&P students, by the year 2020, only 61 percent or less of the population using orthoses will be served. Similarly, only 66 percent or less of prosthetic consumers' needs will be met by 2020–a population expected to increase by 47 percent by that year. These statistics are taken from a study conducted by Caroline Nielsen, PhD, called Issues Affecting the Future Demand for Orthotists and Prosthetists (May 2002).
The Department of Health and Human Services has reported on the twin epidemics of diabetes and obesity. Diabetes is the leading cause of limb loss, and the recent explosion in cases of obesity and diabetes are expected to result in the escalation of diabetic amputations. The number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes is projected to reach 29 million by 2050. Cardiovascular disease, the nation's leading killer, is the second leading cause of amputations. Millions of Americans living today with cardiovascular disease are at an increased risk for amputation. Obesity further increases the risk of amputations to those living with these conditions.
The National Health Interview Survey indicates that 35 million Americans (one in eight) have disabling conditions that interfere with life activities, and 16 percent of those individuals reported an orthopedic impairment. In 1990, more than 3.5 million persons in the U.S. were using some kind of orthosis, more than a 100 percent increase since 1980. Approximately 20.3 percent of the two million Americans with complete or partial paralysis of limbs use orthoses (Nielsen, May 2002).
Currently, there are 5,664 practitioners certified by the American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics, & Pedorthics (ABC) (2014). Of this total number, 34 percent (1,926) were certified orthotists, 24 percent (1,367) were certified prosthetists and 42 percent (2,371) were certified in both disciplines. Twenty-nine percent of this group is 55 and older and likely to retire within the next ten years, so it is critical that more qualified students enter O&P programs to assure access to quality care for individuals with amputations and orthopedic impairments. Currently there are 2,500 certified pedorthists, of which 32 percent are age 55 or older.