Prosthetics 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.
The 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."
Political changes to the health-care industry are also impacting the profession,
says Elaine Uellendahl, a certified prosthetics designer and clinical instructor
"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.
Despite 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.
One 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."