How Do I Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant

People interested in helping patients recover from injuries and lead normal lives at home and work often ask how they can become an occupational therapy assistant. An occupational therapy assistant must complete a formal training program, obtain work experience and become certified. Once all this is completed the candidate is in the position to seek work as a licensed occupational therapy assistant, a position that’s very much in demand today.

What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Occupational therapy assistants are medical professionals who have completed a formal training program and work under the supervision of occupational therapists. They provide therapy to patients who are trying to improve, recover or develop skills necessary for their daily lives both at home and at work. Their duties include the following:

  • Talking with and encouraging patients to complete certain tasks and activities
  • Helping patients with stretches and similar therapeutic exercises
  • Recording patients’ progress and reporting it to the occupational therapist
  • Helping developmentally disabled children participate in activities that promote socialization
  • Assist children with exercises to improve coordination
  • Set up therapy equipment and prepare treatment area
  • Assist patients with insurance forms and billing issues
  • Perform administrative duties
  • Collaborate with doctors on the patient’s care and progress

As occupational therapy assistants gain more work experience, they often assist occupational therapists with many of their duties as well.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Becoming an occupational therapy assistant requires completing an associate degree program in occupational therapy assisting. These two-year programs can usually be found in technical schools and community colleges. The program should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. There were approximately 200 accredited occupational therapy assistant programs in the U.S. as of 2017.

Occupational therapy assistant students will complete courses in occupational therapy, pediatric health, biology, health education and psychology. To earn the degree, the student must also complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to obtain hands-on training working under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist.

Licensure/Certification

All the states require that occupational therapy assistants be certified or licensed, with licensure being the most common. To obtain licensure, the candidate must earn the associate degree, successfully complete the fieldwork and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy certification examination. Upon successfully passing the exam, the candidate can use the credential Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. To maintain certification the assistant must complete continuing education credits.

Career Outlook

Occupational therapy assistants are valuable commodities in the medical industry and are very much in demand. These medical professionals were predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to see job growth of 29% during the 2016-2026 decade. Based on this percentage, there should be about 11,400 additional occupational therapy assistant jobs by 2026.

As of a May 2017 report by the BLS, occupational therapy assistants earned yearly wages ranging from $39,020 to $80,320 with their average annual wage at $59,470. The average hourly wage is $28.59. The states where occupational therapy assistants earned the highest wages are Texas, New Jersey, Nevada, Virginia and Maryland.

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Working as an occupational therapy assistant not only offers excellent wages and good job growth but also rewarding work. Few things are more rewarding than helping others become as healthy and pain-free as possible, and this career is possible once an individual makes the decision to become an occupational therapy assistant.