Medical Appliance Technicians
On the Job
Medical appliance technicians build, fit, and repair artificial limbs, braces, and supports.
At the 2004 summer Olympic Games in Athens, Yuliya Nesterenko won the women's 100m dash. Her time? 10.93 seconds. In the men's race, Justin Gatlin won in 9.85 seconds. Yuliya and Justin are now considered the world's fastest woman and man.
Well, fastest "able-bodied" woman and man. Marlon Shirley, an athlete with a prosthetic leg, recently ran the 100m in 10.97 seconds. That makes him just four one-hundredths of a second slower (can you really call it slow?) than Yuliya, and just over one second behind Justin. Marlon is currently the world's fastest man with disabilities, but this may soon change to be the fastest man, period. As prosthetic technology changes, so will athletic competitions in the future. Now made of high-tech materials such as graphite and carbon, prosthetics use sophisticated design and even computer chips so that their wearers are more mobile (and faster) than ever. With the help of medical appliance technicians, prosthetics also fit sockets and joints much better, making them more comfortable and easy to use.Medical appliance technicians work as assistants to orthotists, prosthetists, or podiatrists. Orthotists make orthotic devices or braces. These devices help to relieve patients' pain or correct deformities. Prosthetists make artificial limbs for patients who need them due to birth defects or accidents. Podiatrists are doctors who treat foot problems.
Technicians read prescriptions and detailed information about what patients need. For prostheses, they build a plaster cast of the patient's limb. In some cases, another professional makes the cast. Next, technicians lay out parts and use precision measuring instruments to measure them. Then they cut, carve, or grind the material, using hand or power tools. Technicians may use wood, plastic, metal, and other material to make the parts for artificial limbs. Next, they drill holes for rivets, and then glue, rivet, or weld the parts together. Technicians use common tools but their work is very precise.
For orthotic devices, technicians use a similar process. First, they make a wax or plastic impression. For example, for an arch support, they make an impression of the patient's foot. Then they bend, form, or shape the material according to measurements.
Finally, technicians use grinding or buffing wheels to smooth and polish artificial limbs or supports. They may also cover or pad the limbs with rubber, leather, felt, plastic, or other coverings. For example, they may pad artificial limbs at the points of contact with the arm or leg. They may cover arch supports with felt to make them more comfortable. Technicians use a wide variety of materials.
Technicians test devices for proper alignment and movement. They may test the devices both on and off the patient, although often this is in conjunction with an orthotic or prosthetic specialist. They also fit devices onto patients and make adjustments if they are needed. Most technicians repair and maintain the devices they make. In addition, some technicians teach patients how to use these devices.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Fit appliances onto patients and adjust them if necessary. Test devices for fit, alignment, and movement.
- Read prescriptions or detailed information from medical professionals.
- Create wax or plastic impressions for orthotic devices. Take measurements of patient's body or limb.
- Lay out and measure parts, using precision measuring instruments.
- Construct or receive plaster cast of the patient's limb to use as a pattern for the prosthesis.
- Carve, cut, grind, or weld wood, plastic, or metal material. Use hand and power tools.
- Bend, form, and shape material according to measurements.
- Drill holes for rivets. Glue, weld, or rivet parts together.
- Mix pigments to match patient's skin tone and apply mixtures to orthotic and prosthetic devices.
- Polish artificial limbs, braces, and supports with grinding and buffing wheels.
- Cover or pad metal or plastic devices with coverings such as rubber, leather, felt, or plastic.
- Repair and maintain orthotic and prosthetic devices and machinery used to make them.
- May instruct patients in the use of devices.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Communicate with supervisors, peers, or subordinates.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Inspect equipment, structures, or materials.
- Handle and move objects.
- Think creatively.
- Schedule work and activities.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Assist and care for others.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Provide information or drawings about devices, equipment, or structures.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Repair and maintain mechanical equipment.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Control machines and processes.
- Estimate sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
- Perform activities that use the whole body.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Have a medium level of social contact. They often work with patients, but work alone when constructing devices.
- Communicate daily by telephone and in person. They occasionally write letters and memos.
- Sometimes work as part of a team.
- Are somewhat responsible for the work done by others, especially assistants.
- Are somewhat responsible for the health and safety of patients.
- May occasionally be placed in conflict situations in which others may become rude or angry.
- Often work indoors.
- Are regularly exposed to contaminants.
- Often wear protective attire, such as masks or safety goggles.
- Are regularly exposed to loud sounds and distracting noise levels, such as when using power tools.
- May be exposed to patients' diseases and infections.
- Are sometimes exposed to hazardous equipment or hazardous situations that produce cuts or minor burns.
- May work physically close to patients and other medical personnel, sometimes within a few feet.
- Must be very exact in their work and be sure all details are done. Fitting errors could injure patients.
- Often make decisions that affect others. They sometimes act independently, but frequently seek advice from superiors.
- Set some of their daily tasks and goals independently.
- Work in a moderately stressful environment in which daily deadlines must be met.
- Usually work a regular 40-hour week.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Use hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- Stand to test or fit support devices.
- See details of objects whether they are nearby or far away.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- Hold the arm and hand in one position or hold the hand steady while moving the arm.
- Use hands or fingers to grasp, move, or assemble small objects.
- Make quick, precise adjustments to machine controls.
- Move two or more limbs together (for example, two arms, two legs, or one leg and one arm) while remaining in place.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- Determine the distance between objects.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Hear sounds and recognize the difference between them.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Use muscles to lift, push, pull, or carry heavy objects.
- React quickly using hands, fingers, or feet.
- Make fast, repeated movements of fingers, hands, and wrists.
- Use muscles for extended periods without getting tired.
- Use stomach and lower back muscles to support the body for long periods without getting tired.
- Choose quickly and correctly among various movements when responding to different signals.
- Adjust body movements or equipment controls to keep pace with speed changes of moving objects.
- Coordinate movement of several parts of the body, such as arms and legs, while the body is moving.
- Be physically active for long periods without getting tired or out of breath.
- Bend, stretch, twist, or reach out.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.