Everything you need to know about a STEM career in prosthetics 

Prosthetist Richard Goward started manufacturing running ‘blades’ and other devices in his home garage.

Ever thought about getting into prosthetics? The specialised STEM field is full of rewarding career opportunities for budding biomedical engineers and innovators.

If you’re keen to dive into engineering, but equally stoked on health and helping others, a degree in prosthetics and orthotics could set you off on a compatible pathway.

The clinic-based training equips you with the qualifications to design, fit and manufacture a) artificial limbs for people with amputations and b) supportive devices for those with musculoskeletal weakness or neurological disorders. Career pathways include roles in hospitals, private prosthetic-orthotic facilities and independent agencies. 

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So, what’s a job as a prosthetist actually like?

In an effort to learn more about what it’s like to work as a prosthetist day-to-day, we chatted to prosthetist, orthotist and founder and director of Momentum Sports & Rehabilitation Services Richard Goward, who kickstarted his pathway into prosthetics after high school.

He now spends nine to five creating protective guards for wheelchair rugby players, swimming splints for para-triathletes, and sport-specific arms for upper limb amputees.

Here are some of the coolest thing we learnt about his gig…

1. Inspiration is everywhere! Richard was inspired to get into the field by a mate who needed a prosthetic finger

“In high school a friend of mine wanted to participate in rowing but was missing his fingers on one hand so he wasn’t able to hold an oar. Another friend turned a school Design and Technology project into a device to allow him to hold an oar and row. From that moment I was immediately drawn to the world of Prosthetics and Orthotics!”

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2. Tertiary study options are seriously specialised!

“When I was in high school there was only a single university in Australia to offer a Bachelor of Prosthetics & Orthotics – LaTrobe.  I needed Mathematics, two Science courses and English to enter the course. After I graduated the qualification changed from a Bachelor to Master’s degree, and now it’s offered at two universities within Australia.”

3. Unpaid work experience can lead to awesome opportunities!

“After graduating from Uni I began volunteering my time at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra. I was incredibly fortunate to spend time with many of Australia’s top amputee athletes and coaching staff, and I gained a huge amount of insight into elite level sports. After observing and assisting para-athletes across a range of sports, an opportunity arose for me to take on paid work to supply running prostheses to some of these athletes.” 

“I set up a very basic workshop in my home garage and started manufacturing running ‘blades’ and other devices.”

Richard offers local support to the nation’s top amputee athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra.

4. Every client and their needs are different, which makes projects fun and fresh

I support clients of all ages and with a vast range of conditions – assessing, prescribing, fitting and maintaining artificial limbs (prostheses) and medical braces (orthoses). Each client has unique needs and requires a different approach to their management. There is no average day!”

5. It’s seriously rewarding – and life-changing – work!

“I love the people I meet, the opportunity to create, and the satisfaction of making a positive difference to lives of my clients. I also love the opportunities I have as a business director to develop my team and continue innovating to better meet the needs of our community.”

6. There’s loads of jumping between the clinic, computer and lab!

“I see clients within a clinic, but I then manufacture devices within our on-site laboratory. The lab has a range of specialised computer software and machinery to allow us to mould plastics, carbon fibre, and other materials to provide custom-made supportive medical devices.”

Richard sees clients within a clinic, but then manufactures devices within Momentum’s on-site laboratory.

7. The skills required of the gig are pretty specific! (Spoiler: don’t drop science).

“The course I studied at Uni was very heavy on human biology, pathology and health research, but we also studied specialised physics and materials science subjects.

“In my day-to-day work I need a very strong understanding of biomechanics – without this the devices I make wouldn’t support my clients to achieve the amazing things they do each day.”

8. It’s a great field to get into if engineering + sport is your thing!

“One of the most exciting things about my job is providing such a high proportion of sporting and recreational clinical services. Our Canberra clinic is located only a few hundred metres from the Australian Institute of Sport, and I am fortunate to work alongside amazing coaches and support staff while also gaining access to incredible technical facilities.

“I love making very unique devices like protective guards for wheelchair rugby players, swimming splints for wheelchair para-triathletes, and sport-specific arms for upper limb amputees.”

9. It’s such a unique area and an amazing way to use your STEM smarts to help others!

“It’s fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding. There seriously isn’t another job like it!”

Richard’s study and career pathway

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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