Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)
An occupational therapy assistant (OTA) works with an occupational therapist (OT) to treat patients who have difficulty performing work and daily living 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 certain 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.
In 2010 occupational therapy assistants held about 29,000 jobs in the United States. Most work in occupational therapists' offices or in the offices of physical therapists, speech pathologists or audiologists. Many others are employed by nursing care facilities and hospitals. 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.
To become an OTA one must earn an associate degree from an occupational therapy assistant program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Some community colleges and technical schools offer these programs. They 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 in which one wants to work.
Most states call it a license, but others refer to it as registration, authorization or certification. Regardless of which one it is, 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.
In addition to their training and credentials, there are certain characteristics that contribute to ones' success in this career. An occupational therapy assistant must be compassionate and have strong interpersonal skills. He or she must be detail oriented. Physical strengh is another attribute that allows an OTA to do his or her job.
The job outlook for occupational therapy assistants is excellent. This occupation is expected to experience job growth, through 2020, that is much faster than the average for all occupations. It is listed among the fastest growing occupations that require an associate degree.
Occupational therapy assistants earned a median annual salary of $52,040 and median hourly wages of $25.02 in 2011.
Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much an occupational therapy assistant currently earns in your city.
A Day in an Occupational Therapy Assistant's Life
On a typical day an occupational therapy assistant will:
- help clients with rehabilitative activities and exercises outlined in a treatment plan developed in collaboration with an occupational therapist
- monitor an individual's activities to make sure they are performed correctly
- record his or her client's progress for the occupational therapist
- help patient get dressed
Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Occupational Therapist Assistants and Aides
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Occupational Therapist Assistants