Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, assist occupational therapists with the rehabilitation and care of patients with physical, mental, developmental, social, and emotional disabilities. Occupational therapy assistants work with people of all ages and can be employed in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and therapist offices. They may also be called to work with patients in their homes. They help their patients recover and improve the necessary skills for daily living and working.
For example, on one day an OTA may help a client learn to balance their checkbook and pay their bills, while another day the same OTA may help a recently injured person learn to get from a wheelchair into their vehicle without injuring themselves further.
The work environment for an OTA is identical to that of an OT. An OTA may provide occupational therapy services, which can include moving the patient, setting up materials, explaining exercises, and preparing reports on patient treatment. What an occupational therapy assistant cannot do is diagnose illnesses and formulate a treatment plan without supervision by an occupational therapist.
OTAs may work full or part-time, and while the job market may be competitive in some parts of the country, the Bureau of Labor Statistics report from May 2014 projects that employment opportunities for OTAs will increase 41 percent between now and 2024. Occupational therapy assistants can further their educations to become licensed occupational therapist.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Education and Licensure
The AOTA, or American Occupational Therapy Association, regulates educational curriculum and licensure for OTAs and OTs in all fifty States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In order to become an occupational therapy assistant, one must attend an AOTA-accredited college or university. Students who do not attend an accredited school will not be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Passing this exam is required in order to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) and to further your education if you desire to become an occupational therapist.
Prospective OTAs must have a high-school diploma or GED equivalent in order to get into an associate’s degree program. Most OTA programs are two years in length and impose rigorous coursework. If you are a high-school graduate and have a graduate school in mind to complete a master’s or doctoral degree program, you may want to learn about that school’s prerequisites. In most cases you will be unable to attend the university of your choice if you do not complete all the prerequisites. Most OTA programs are competitive to enter, as class sizes are usually between ten and thirty students. To learn more about accredited occupational therapy assistant schools in your state, visit our occupational therapy assistant schools page.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the job outlook for occupational therapy assistants is excellent. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growing fields in medicine, and that growth is unlikely to slow down any time soon. The average annual salary for OTAs is $56,950, according to a BLS report from May 2014. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $36,420, and the top 10 percent earned more than $76,790. OTAs who provide service in home health (visiting patients in their homes) and nursing facilities seem to make more than the average wage, and only 15 percent of occupational therapy assistants work in hospitals. Most find employment in private physicians’ offices and rehabilitation centers. Check out the average salary of OTAs in your state by visiting our occupational therapy assistant salary page.