What an Occupational Therapist Looks for in an Assistant


Several occupational therapists from around the country explain what they want and need from an assistant

Look for in OTA pic

Occupational therapists are hard-working, dedicated, and passionate people who enjoy helping others learn to live their lives to the fullest. To be an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), you must first complete a two-year program from an accredited university or college approved by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Graduates of accredited programs will be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Once you are certified and other individual state licensure requirements have been met, you will become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, or COTA.

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants work side-by-side to help clients. Assistants usually work the same hours and at the same facilities as their OT. Because of this, it’s important for the occupational therapist and occupational therapy assistant to be in harmony. We have asked several different occupational therapists what they look for in an assistant. Check out some of their responses below to see if you would be a good candidate to be an occupational therapy assistant.

Susan Coppola MS, OTR/L, BCG, FAOTA, the AOTA Delegate for the World Federation of Occupational Therapy (WFOT) explains, “I look for someone who wants to collaborate with the care team, including the client, and who loves to learn new things. I also look for someone who cares deeply about the clients, listens well,  and is willing to work hard for them.”

Emily Jo Kyburz, MS, OTR, a pediatric occupational therapist for Motor Milestones, Inc. in Boulder, CO said, “I look for someone who is excited about their job, willing to be creative, has experience working with my client population, strives for excellence, and puts clients first.”

Dave Bockhorn, COTA, an occupational therapy assistant at Mountainview Care Center in Las Vegas, couldn’t agree more with Emily, and says that OTAs should possess “dedication to the profession and their patients.”

Christina M Toohill, MOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Easter Seals Peoria-Bloomington, needs someone who “wants to work with a team, [and is] hardworking, dependable, easy to talk to, and not afraid to ask questions.”

Based on responses from the occupational therapists at the Amaryllis Therapy Network in Denver, CO, most OTs look for the following qualities in an assistant:

  • Creativity
  • Knowledge about the treatments provided
  • Understanding of issues surrounding each patient and environment
  • Reliability
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to take action
  • Ability to solve problems independently

Angie K DeLost, MOT,OTR/L, ATP from Easter Seals Peoria-Bloomington believes an assistant who exhibits “dependability, a caring personality, open and honest communication, and who is a team player,”would benefit any occupational therapist and their clients. Nicole L. Kauppila, OTR/L, CHT, the manager of occupational therapy services at Athletico Physical Therapy adds, “an assistant must remain curious at all times.”

It’s important to remember that you may have two clients with the same disability who may approach their situation in two completely different ways. There are other aspects of a person’s disability, illness, or injury that will keep you on your toes and hopefully keep you curious. Being an occupational therapy assistant requires you to have the knowledge of a teacher and the compassion of a friend.

Do you have what it takes to be a COTA? Get started now by choosing a school that will help you become an occupational therapy assistant.