New Year, New Momentum for Technician Advancements


Change is in the air. As you see, OPTA has moved to O&P Business News. You’ll still enjoy technical “how to” articles but also be able to take advantage of other technician related content that’s not so technical in nature.

OPTA wants Tech Views to be able to answer questions about everything from where you’re headed in your technical career to how to meet challenging fabrication needs.

For a long time technicians have not gotten the recognition they deserve, being relegated to a bench in the basement. Today’s practitioners are leaving schools without basic fabrication skills making the role of technician more important than ever.

A new knowledge base

Something very remarkable is happening. For the past few years we have started to see a shift in the way the O&P industry sees technicians. Not long ago almost everyone in the industry was a technician. Even if you were a certified practitioner, you still spent time in the lab and you still had plaster on your shoes. But now the industry is changing. Practitioners are busy being practitioners and as a result they are coming to rely more on the capable hands of their support staff. All of this has meant technicians have to be more independent and they must have a greater range of understanding. We need to understand things including components, materials, and at least the basics of anatomy, kinesiology and engineering. If we don’t, we won’t be able to communicate with practitioners in a meaningful and efficient way.

A shift in perspective

We have to change the way we think about what we do for a living. For years OPTA has presented the technical program at the national conferences and found that even though there are almost always practitioners present at the technical courses, there are rarely any technicians at the clinical programs. This leaves a significant void in the communication conduit. There is the problem, but what is the solution? The answer lies in the way we see our role in the industry.

If we see ourselves as a an integral component of the rehabilitation team then not only do we begin to feel the need for increased education on a personal level but we also begin to see the need for a national minimum education standard for all technicians. We can all agree that as technicians we need to know a certain body of information, we can also agree that that body of knowledge now extends beyond the boundaries of the immediate tasks at hand. But how far beyond that boundary? One solution to the problem is to ask the industry.

The wheels are starting to turn to make this happen. A nationwide survey of technicians and practitioners called a practice analysis survey is at the early stages of development. This will help us to answer the question — what is our role in this industry and what should we know to make sure that we are working together in a synergistic way? When this survey is produced please realize how important this data is to the future of our science and take the time to complete and return it.

A change in education

Technician education usually culminates in the technician registration process. For years this process has consisted of a two-part exam which included written and skills-based components. The exam sought to ensure that each technician possessed at least the minimum skill level required to ensure the safety of their customers. There are two problems with this system.

First, there is very little scientific evidence on which to base this exam. Second, there is a lot of subjectivity built into the exam process. The written portion of the exam is pretty straight forward–questions with an obvious reference–and an easily documented source. The practical portion however is full of subjectivity. There are questions with answers that can easily be misinterpreted and they often present extenuating circumstances that may require you do things in the exam process that you would never do or allow in your own facility. It begs the question—what do we do to ensure that our standards are met and that the process merits our investment? The obvious but controversial answer is to follow the example of other industries and move to a less subjective testing method. Either Internet-based or proctored, but strictly a written exam. This has been viewed with some skepticism because we are a group who, in our daily lives, are judged on our hand skills and our ability to turn raw materials into three-dimensional objects. How can we assess a technician without judging their hand skills? Well the answer is simple. We can’t. We can however test for the objective skills behind those talents and do it in a way that is much broader and more meaningful than any hand skills test ever could. Developing this test in line with actual documented procedures, testing on a far greater range of materials and allowing a “scope of practice analysis” to guide the exam process would vastly increase its viability. It would also allow for the easy integration of new data which would ensure that the exam content remains relevant far into the future.

Make an investment

The big question for most technicians now is, why take the exam? If it has little relevance, makes no difference in salary and does not carry with it any privilege, then why bother to put yourself through the trauma? Those are all valid questions. OPTA believes there are some very good reasons to take the exam even in its current format. It is the highest distinction afforded to a technician in the field at this time, allowing you better access to things like educational programming and most importantly it puts you on the “list”. When companies have positions available, or when new products are released or when educational opportunities come along, the only way for someone to contact you is through the address lists supplied by certifying bodies. This might not sound like much, but there truly are an enormous number of opportunities that can present themselves as a result of being on that list.

There is currently some momentum to make some long needed sweeping changes in the technician registration exam process and OPTA is thrilled to be a part of those changes. We are more enthusiastic about the future of O&P technology than we have been for a long time. Just the simple idea of changing technician “registration” to technician “certification” is long overdue. The word registered simply denotes that you have signed up for something. Certification is an achievement based on having met certain standards.

So when the “practice analysis survey” hits your mailbox, be sure to fill it out and send it back. You, the O&P professional, are the only people with the information we need and it’s more important than you may think.

Also, look in O&P Business News monthly to find technical offerings from some of the most talented fabricators in the industry as well as the occasional technician related comment. Together we can bring technicians the credentials they have so long deserved.

The Orthotic and Prosthetic Technological Association is a group dedicated to sharing O&P fabrication information and elevating the role of technicians within the O&P community. Current board members are: Peter Panuncialman, president; Patrick Myrdal, RTPO (C), vice president; Tony Wickman, RT (OP), treasurer; Steve Hill, CO, secretary.

Editor’s Note:
Please look in O&P Business News each month, and online at, for more technician-related commentary in OPTA Tech Views.

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