What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

USA, Utah, Orem, Man re-learning to walk with physical therapist
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An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) works with an occupational therapist (OT or OTR) to treat patients who have difficulty performing daily living and work activities due to illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. He or she helps clients perform exercises as specified in a treatment plan and teaches them how to use equipment that may make some activities easier.

An OTA works under an OT's supervision and, if state law permits, helps develop treatment plans. He or she also does some administrative tasks, including recording patients' progress.

Quick Facts

  • Occupational therapy assistants earn a median annual salary of $59,310 (2017).
  • This occupation employs slightly over 39,000 people (2016).
  • Most work in occupational therapists' offices or the offices of physical therapistsspeech pathologists, or audiologists. Nursing care facilities and hospitals employ others. Some work for schools and home health care agencies.
  • Jobs in this field are typically full-time. To accommodate patients' schedules, OTAs sometimes work evenings and weekends.
  • This field has an excellent job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment to grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 to 2026. Because of this, the government agency classifies it as a "Bright Outlook" occupation.


    A Day in an Occupational Therapy Assistant's Life

    In online job announcements on Indeed.com, employers listed the following job duties:

    • "Treat the patient through the use of therapeutic activities designed to restore function and self-care activities designed to improve function under the direction of the occupational therapist (OTR)"
    • "Monitors an individual's activities to make sure they are performed correctly and provide encouragement"
    • "Contributes to case conference and other meetings to ensure coordinated and comprehensive plans of care for the patient"
    • "Document patient’s progress on weekly progress note in a timely fashion"
    • "Maintains treatment areas, equipment, and supply inventory"
    • "Instructs patients, families and other caregivers in the skills and techniques of the occupational therapy treatment program under the supervision of the Occupational Therapist"

    Educational and Licensing Requirements

    You will need an associate degree from an occupational therapy assistant program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) to become on occupational therapy assistant. Some community colleges and technical schools offer these programs which are usually two years long and combine classroom study with clinical fieldwork. See the American Occupational Therapy Association website for a list of accredited programs.

    Most states regulate occupational therapy assistants. The credentials go by different names, depending on the state. Most call it a license, but others refer to it as registration, authorization, or certification. Regardless of the title, eligibility usually requires graduation from an approved program—usually one accredited by ACOTE—and passing the COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant) Exam, which is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. To find out what the regulations are in the state in which you want to practice, see the Licensed Occupations Tool on CareerOneStop.

    What Soft Skills Do Occupational Therapy Assistants Need?

    Particular characteristics, known as soft skills, will contribute to your success as an OTA. You were either born with them or acquired them through life experiences. They are:

    • Compassion: OTAs must have a strong desire to provide physical and emotional support.
    • Interpersonal Skills: The ability to interact with patients and their families, team members, physicians, and other health care professionals  is essential. You need excellent social skills, as well as superb listening and speaking skills.
    • Physical Strength: You must be able to help lift patients, and kneel, stoop, and stand for a significant part of your day.
    • Attention to Detail: The ability to precisely follow a treatment plan an OT has developed is imperative.

      What Will Employers Expect From You?

      Job announcements on Indeed.com included the following requirements, in addition to education and a license:

      • "Respecting the patient’s privacy and maintaining confidentiality"
      • "Teamwork skills"
      • "Ability to turn, lift, carry, and otherwise transport patients"
      • "Current CPR certification"
      • "Exceptional patient service skills and ability to demonstrate clinical excellence"
      • "Exercise safe judgment in decision making"

      Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

      Conduct a self assessment to learn if you have the interests, personality type, and work-related values that make a career as an occupational therapy assistant suitable for you. Do you have the following traits?

      Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

      Description Annual Salary (2017) Educational Requirements
      Occupational Therapist Helps patients regain their ability to perform tasks of daily living $83,200 Master's Degree or Doctorate in Occupational Therapy
      Physical Therapy Assistant Provides therapeutic care under a physical therapist's supervision $57,430 Associate Degree in Physical Therapy Assisting
      Occupational Therapy Aide Prepares equipment and material for occupational therapy sessions $29,200 HS or Equivalency Diploma + On-the-Job Training

      Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited July 5, 2018).