Case study

Orthotist — Rachel

Having completed a specialist prosthetics and orthotics degree, Rachel now enjoys making a tangible, positive impact on patients' lives as a practising orthotist

What degree did you study?

I graduated in 2017 from the University of Strathclyde with a BSc Prosthetics and Orthotics, one of only two universities in the UK which offers this course.

How did you get your job?

I am currently working in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde as a Band 5 orthotist and have done so since I graduated.  While I was still in my final year, I applied for roles in the private sector as well as the NHS. I applied for my current job using the NHS Scotland Recruitment website and was offered an interview which involved competency style questions as well as a presentation. I was successful in this process and was offered the job.     

What's a typical working day like?

As an orthotist I see patients with a wide variety of conditions which could be causing them pain or affecting their day-to-day mobility. Examples of conditions include arthritis, stroke and diabetes. It's my job to assess patients and determine their functional loss and design an orthosis to help control, guide or limit/immobilise the joint or part of the body that has been affected. This can range from insoles and orthotic footwear to leg splints called ankle foot orthosis or spinal braces.

Working in an acute service, my day typically involves a morning and afternoon outpatient clinic. This includes new patient assessments and returns, which can be for review, fittings or repairs. My day also often includes visits to assess ward in-patients. On average I see 10 to 15 patients per day.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Every day and appointment is different, so I love getting to meet and speak to so many different people with a need for orthotics help. Being able to have a positive impact on their lives by helping them to manage their pain and/or improve their mobility and quality of life really makes my job worthwhile.

What are the challenges?

Something that works for one patient may not work for another, so I often find myself problem solving to treat a patient holistically, adapting my treatment plan to suit each individual patient's needs. This means making changes to a prescription to allow the patient to get the most from it. Very rarely do two patients require the same treatment, even when they present with the same condition.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree was a great mix of lectures and practical learning, something that has stood me in great stead for my career as an orthotist. The second year involved a five-month placement, which was amazing for developing my practical, clinical and communication skills whilst at the same time reinforcing my learning from the course. I feel that it provided a good foundation for becoming an autonomous clinician and preparing me for the transition from student to practising clinician.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've been working as an orthotist for two years now. The first six months involved varying levels of support and supervision, allowing me to gradually progress to independent working.

Recently, I've been supporting a specialist musculoskeletal clinic with complex patients and have responsibility for a paediatric clinic. In addition, I've begun supervising students to support and guide them through their clinical placements.

In the future I'd like to extend my scope of practice and become more involved in specialist clinics.

What advice can you give to others interested in orthotics?

  • Arrange relevant work experience. Also, visit the university and/or your local orthotics department. This will help you to decide if orthotics is the right option for you.
  • Make the most of your clinical placement. This is where you can put your learning into practice and pick up the skills required for the workplace. 
  • Improve your communication skills. Your role requires helping patients and working with them to achieve their goals. Being able to listen and build rapport with a patient is key, alongside explaining your findings and how your intervention is designed to help them.

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