See why COTA’s can be just as successful as their supervising OT’s below. Learn more about various pros and cons of the profession.
With any profession, there are always going to be pros and cons. COTAs, or Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants, do a lot of the same work that OTs do. Improving the quality of life for your clients is essential to success. COTAs generally work under the direct supervision of an occupational therapist.
A COTA’s overall goal is to help clients learn the skills necessary to function in public and private environments. COTA’s also function as administrative assistants for their supervisors, handling things such as recording and reporting data to the occupational therapist.
Teri Black, the President of the Washington Occupational Therapy Association (WOTA) says, “You get to practice the great profession of Occupational Therapy and truly make a positive difference in people’s lives.”
She goes on to say, “COTA’s have the same educational standards as OT’s do minus the research and evaluation requirements. So they know the OT process and are able to perform OT.”
The Pros of Being a COTA
Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics (BLS), and as of 2021, COTAs earn an average of $61,730 annually. While this rate is comparable to other professions — such as physical therapist assistants who make an average $61,180 each year — many variables affect the actual salary you could earn. Factors such as which state you live in, who you work for, and where you work all play a role in your salary. See occupational therapy assistant salaries by state.
Employment Growth: Besides the fact that the profession itself is growing much quicker than most other professions, occupational therapy assistants always have the opportunity to continue their education and grow in their field. According to the BLS, employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 41 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for other occupations.
Minimum Degree: All you need to become a certified occupational therapy assistant is an associate’s degree. Two years of hard work at an accredited OT assistant school and you could be well on your way to starting a new career.
Advancement: As mentioned above, as an assistant you can always continue your education to become a registered occupational therapist. And if you do choose to earn your OTR, you can advance within the field. However, Teri Black points out, “There is career mobility but not as many opportunities for upward advancement to management positions.”
Working with Clients: Many OTs and COTAs love the fact that they get to work so closely with their clients. Whereas a physical therapist assistant may be limited in what they do with their clients, occupational therapists and their assistants have to ability to teach their clients a wide range of skills, including balancing a checkbook, learning how to get in and out of a vehicle, learning how to use a new prosthetic, and much more.
Volunteer Opportunities: If you ask any COTA or OT, you’ll learn about all of the opportunities that are available to volunteer and get involved at a local, national, and international level. Volunteering is a huge part of getting into school, earning a degree, and continuing your education after you begin your career. Thankfully, there are lots of things for you to do.
The Cons of Being a COTA
Scheduling: Some COTAs may find it difficult to adjust to such an informal schedule. For most OTs and their assistants, the job revolves around the client. Weekends, evenings, and early mornings may be a part of your new work schedule, although this also depends on where you work and whom you work for. Those who work in nursing homes, schools, and hospitals may have more of a consistent schedule. Still, the schedule can be one of the few drawbacks.
Licensing: Just because you’ve chosen to stop your education at the assistant level doesn’t mean you don’t have to be licensed. You do. This is why it’s so important to graduate — at any level — from an ACOTE-accredited school or program. You must sit for the NBCOT exam after you’ve completed the level of education you want in order to be hired for a job. All states are different, so it’s important to look up your licensing requirements.
Certification: While we use the term loosely around here, there really is no such thing as an OTA (occupational therapy assistant). You must be certified in all states to work as a COTA — a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. Period.
Not the Boss: As an assistant, you are not the boss. You must answer to your occupational therapist and follow all rules set forth. You may also be limited in things you can do, such as order new tests, complete comprehensive evaluations of a client’s home or work environment, and educate the family and friends of the client. Teri Black adds, “The title assistant is oftentimes limiting. Often put on pay scales that are more on the level of an aide because the OTA education is not recognized.”
So as you can see, being a certified occupational therapist assistant can be a very rewarding career, even though there are drawbacks. Still, many of the drawbacks can be eliminated with a few more years of schooling.
There is nothing wrong with settling for becoming a COTA until you feel comfortable and knowledgeable about the field, then continuing your education to advance your career and improve your salary. Search our occupational therapy assistant section to learn more about this exciting career.