How Can I Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Explore the career requirements for occupational therapy assistants. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Occupational Therapy Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) works under the supervision of an occupational therapist. After the OTA assesses a patient and develops a treatment plan for them, they assist the patient with the exercises and maintain records of their progress. They report to the occupational therapist about the progress of each patient they work with. They may also teach patients how to use special equipment that can help with their treatment. Take a look at the table to learn more about education requirements and career information.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Occupational therapy assisting
Key Skills Physical strength, interpersonal skills, attention to detail
Licensure Required in most states
Job Growth (2018-2028) 33%*
Median Salary (2018) $60,220*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

As an OTA, you would work with an occupational therapist to help rehabilitate patients with mental, physical or developmental setbacks. Your main goal as an OTA is to help your patient regain the movement they need to return to work or complete daily activities. You need to have an encouraging demeanor to help frustrated patients work through their exercises, in addition to the physical strength to help them stand or otherwise assist movement. The occupational therapist will develop the treatment plans that you would enact with each patient.

What Education or Training Do I Need?

You need some formal training, such as an associate's degree, to begin work as an occupational therapy assistant. The American Occupational Therapy Association created the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education to accredit training programs for occupational therapists and therapy assistants. In a 2-year associate's degree program in occupational therapy assisting, you study anatomy, medical terminology, physiology and healthcare fundamentals. Many states require OTAs to be licensed as well, so check with your state's board to see if you need to pass a licensing or certification exam.

How Could I Advance My Career?

In order to demonstrate your professional ability as an occupational therapy assistant, you may choose to seek voluntary certification from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. After you have completed a training program, you are eligible to sit for the certification exam for the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for OTAs is expected to increase 33% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average for all other occupations ( As an OTA, your services and expertise are expected to be in increasing demand as occupational therapists employ more of these professionals to meet the needs of an aging population.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Dental assistants and physical therapy assistants share some duties that are similar to those of an occupational assistant. Dental assistants need some postsecondary training, although a degree is not required. Dental assistants provide some basic patient care and perform tests on patients; like OTAs they update patient records with observations and findings and that information is relayed to the dentist. Physical therapy assistants also provide direct patient care. They assist patients with exercises that have been prescribed by the physical therapist to help the patient improve their gross motor skills. They also document the patient's progress and report findings to the physical therapist. Physical therapy assistants need an associate's degree, along with licensure or certification.

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