Occupational Therapist Assistant: Career Profile, Job Outlook and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for occupational therapist assistants. Get the facts about job duties, job growth and education 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 Therapist Assistant?

Occupational therapist assistants (or OTAs) are associate's degree program graduates who work in hospitals, therapy offices or nursing homes, assisting patients in restoring their ability to perform daily living activities under the supervision of occupational therapists. An OTA will help execute a therapeutic plan devised primarily by the occupational therapist. Specific activities will typically depend on the unique needs of the individual patient, who may require treatment for a chronic condition or a sudden traumatic injury. As such, the scope of duties may range from teaching and aiding a paralyzed individual in using his or her wheelchair to assisting a cognitively impaired patient with developing the motor skills required for handling silverware or for dressing.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming an occupational therapist assistant.

Degree Required Associate's degree
Education Field of Study Occupational therapy assistant
Key Responsibilities Assist patients with performing therapy tasks; teach patients to do therapy tasks; observe patient and record progress
Licensure or Certification Most states require licensure or registration
Job Growth (2014-2024) 43%*
Median Salary (2015) $57,870*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Can I Expect From a Career as an Occupational Therapist Assistant?

As an occupational therapist assistant, you will receive direction from an occupational therapist and assist him or her in providing rehabilitative services to clients. You will help develop and implement treatment plans based on your clients' needs. Your main goal is to help people with injuries or impairments improve their quality of daily living. Typical tasks include helping clients correctly perform physical activities and exercises, as well as monitoring and recording their progress. Other job duties might include billing health insurance companies and instructing clients' families in providing home care.

What Are the Employment Prospects Expected to Be Like?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of occupational therapist assistants and aides is expected to grow much faster than average (www.bls.gov). Employment is predicted to increase by 40% between 2014 and 2024. The need for therapeutic services is expected to increase along with the increasing number of disabled and elderly persons. Job prospects for occupational therapist assistants should be very good because occupational therapists tend to hire them in order to cut therapy costs.

What Type of Training Will I Need to Undertake?

In general, you need at least an associate's degree to find employment as an occupational therapist assistant. While enrolled in an occupational therapy assistant program, you may take courses in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, mental health, kinesiology, human occupations and pediatrics. You may also complete fieldwork requirements and gain job experience in a clinical or community setting.

In most states, you are required to earn licensure, certification or registration after earning your associate's degree, according to BLS . If your state requires certification, you may need to pass an exam given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and earn the title of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). However, if your state does not require this certification, you may still choose to earn it voluntarily. Other states have their own required licensing or registration exams. In most cases, you need to complete continuing education requirements in order to maintain your credential.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals with at least a high school diploma can become an occupational therapy aide. Like occupational therapist assistants, aides work in therapeutic settings under the guidance of an occupational therapist. Rather than directly providing therapy, however, aides are typically responsible for maintaining therapy areas and equipment, escorting patients around the facilities and performing administrative tasks. Other related healthcare support occupations include physical therapy assistants (PTAs) and aides, home health aides, nursing assistants and medical assistants. Some of these jobs (such as PTAs) do necessitate formal training and/or certification.

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