Orthopaedic Technician

The Job and What's Involved

Orthopaedic technicians (sometimes known as plaster technicians) apply casts to patients' limbs and other body parts. They may also apply orthopaedic splints and braces. They work as part of a team and provide skilled help to orthopaedic consultants and surgeons. This may be:

  • Following an accident.
  • To remedy an orthopaedic condition (an injury or disease of the skeleton and its related muscles).
  • After surgery.

They use a variety of casting materials, including Plaster of Paris and a range of resin-covered materials on fibreglass, polypropylene and polyester bases.

Orthopaedic technicians are advised by doctors on the casts that are needed. In some cases, they discuss with consultants the most appropriate treatments for specific problems, including the design and application of plasters and splints. Their work includes:

  • Positioning limbs appropriately in readiness for fitting a cast.
  • Applying the most appropriate casting for the case concerned.
  • Applying orthopaedic splints and braces.
  • Applying bandaging or slings where necessary.
  • Advising patients on how to look after their casts and of any complications that may arise.
  • Measuring, providing and advising patients on the use of suitable walking aids.
  • Removing casts.
  • Checking for any signs of infection when removing casts.
  • Completing records for each patient.

Technicians are responsible for keeping the plaster room tidy and safe. They make sure that it is stocked with equipment and supplies.

Orthopaedic technicians help to train less experienced staff in how to apply and remove plaster casts and tractions. This includes junior medical staff, accident and emergency and ward staff.

Orthopaedic technicians within the National Health Service (NHS) work 37.5 hours a week. This can include being on a rota for evenings, weekends and bank holidays. Part-time work is possible.

Technicians are mainly based in plaster rooms in hospitals but they also work in various other areas of the hospital. These areas include trauma and orthopaedic clinics, accident and emergency departments and operating theatres. Technicians wear protective uniforms that are supplied by their employers. The work involves standing and bending and can be messy when dealing with Plaster of Paris.

The starting salary for orthopaedic technicians is around £16,405 a year. Those working in and around London are paid extra.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Orthopaedic technicians are employed in hospitals throughout the UK, mostly within the National Health Service (NHS). A small number work for agencies and act as locums, who stand in for other orthopaedic technicians in their absence. Some agency staff work on a temporary basis for private hospitals and the Armed Forces when needed.

There are around 1,300 people who hold the British Casting Certificate (BCC), the qualification for trained technicians. Some of this number, though, are qualified nurses who have also had casting training. Although there has been a growing number of technicians in recent years, there is a shortage of qualified orthopaedic technicians.

Vacancies may be advertised in local newspapers. They may also be advertised on NHS websites, such as www.jobs.nhs.uk (for England and Wales), www.show.scot.nhs.uk/jobs (for Scotland) and www.hpssjobs.com (for Northern Ireland). Other recruitment websites include that of The Association of Orthopaedic Technicians (AOT), www.aot-uk.com, and those of some recruitment agencies.

Vacancies that arise tend to be filled very quickly.

Education and Training

There are no particular qualifications needed for entry to this work. Applicants should have a good general education, including English and Maths, as well as good practical skills. Entrants have their backgrounds checked to make sure that they are suitable for work with children and vulnerable adults. They are also medically screened.

It is very helpful to have had some experience of healthcare work before becoming an orthopaedic technician. A number of technicians enter this work after gaining experience in another hospital job, often as a healthcare assistant.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entrants are trained on the job by experienced orthopaedic technicians. To become qualified technicians, they must pass an examination to achieve the British Orthopaedic Association (BOA)/Royal College of Nursing (RCN)/Society of Orthopaedic and Trauma Nursing (SOTN)/AOT Certificate in Casting Techniques, commonly known as the BCC. Before they can sit the examination, they must have at least six months' experience in a casting room. They must prepare for the examination by attending a five-week, full-time course at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Middlesex or a day-release course over 20 weeks at one of the following:

- Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast
- Bradford Royal Infirmary
- Glasgow Caledonian University
- Royal Gwent Hospital, Newport

Courses include:

1. The locomotor system - basic knowledge of the skeleton and the muscular, nervous and circulatory systems.

2. Trauma - types of fractures, healing and complications.

3. Orthopaedics - different conditions and their treatment, for example, amputations, bone infections and osteoarthritis.

4. Bandaging - techniques of bandaging and the use of slings.

5. Walking aids - basic principles and instructions.

6. Casting room issues - health and safety, record keeping, and ethical and legal issues.

7. Casting techniques - including basic casting techniques, the use of apparatus, patient care, advice to patients, cast complications and the removal of casts.

8. Specific casts - appropriate use of materials, including Plaster of Paris and alternative casting materials, positioning of casts, bracing and splinting.

The examination includes the practical application of casts.

Holders of the BCC must keep up to date with developments in castings and splinting, and must re-certify every three years. To re-certify, technicians must have proof of relevant study amounting to at least 35 hours in a three-year period. This may include:

  • Attendance at accredited study days, conferences and workshops.
  • Private study.
  • Research.
  • Publication of articles.
  • Presenting at conferences or workshops.
  • Recorded reflective practice.

The orthopaedic technician profession is currently working towards registration with the Health Professions Council.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An orthopaedic technician should:

  • Have good communication skills, both spoken and written.
  • Be able to get on well with people of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  • Be practical and have good hand skills.
  • Have the stamina for what can be strenuous work.
  • Work well as part of a team.
  • Be able to remain calm under pressure.
  • Be courteous and treat people with dignity and respect.
  • Understand the need for confidentiality.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion is possible to senior orthopaedic technician, and then lead technician.

Get Further Information

The Association of Orthopaedic Technicians (AOT),
Torbay Hospital, Newton Road,
Torquay TQ2 7AA
Website: www.aot-uk.com

British Orthopaedic Association (BOA),
35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE
Tel: 020 7405 6507
Website: www.boa.ac.uk

Working in the NHS:

England: NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

Scotland: NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Website: www.nhscareers.scot.nhs.uk

Wales: NHS Wales Careers
Tel: 01443 233472
Website: www.wales.nhs.uk

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