What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

Finding out what occupational therapy assistants do will determine if this rewarding, in-demand career is a good match. Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, are rehabilitation aides who teach patients everyday skills to overcome physical or emotional challenges. It’s their goal to guide injured or impaired patients toward productive, independent lives. From childhood to late adulthood, OTAs help patients perform daily routine tasks. The World Bank reports that 15 percent of the global population, over 1 billion people, have disabilities. Given that, occupational therapy to minimize the effects of mild to severe medical conditions is essential. The U.S. News & World Report recognized OTAs for having America’s 22nd best health care job. Employment of OTAs will grow 28.9 percent through 2026 for 11,400 new openings. Use the following job profile to learn exactly what occupational therapy assistants do.

Duties of Occupational Therapy Assistants

Occupational therapy assistants are responsible for carrying out the treatment plans designed by board-certified OTs. They follow the therapist’s lead to conduct patient activities under close supervision. OTAs teach patients proper self-care skills for daily living. For example, an OTA might enhance motor skills through weaving, drawing, or lacing. OTAs could model good hygiene for bathing and dressing. With children, OTAs often practice play therapy to improve cognitive abilities in creative ways. Frequently, occupational therapy assistants use assistive technologies like word processors and wheelchairs to meet patients’ needs. OTAs abide therapist instructions and continually report back on how patients progress. OTAs also complete clerical tasks, such as scheduling sessions and billing insurance.

Where Occupational Therapy Assistants Work

In May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 42,660 occupational therapy assistants across the United States. The majority, or 42 percent, of OTAs work directly in occupational therapist offices. Nineteen percent are employed at nursing homes or assisted living centers with aging patients. Another 17 percent of OTAs were hired by hospitals to aid inpatient or outpatient recovery. Six percent of occupational therapy assistants work for home health care agencies. Public, private, and parochial schools currently employ 5 percent of OTAs. Others find opportunities at doctor’s offices, non-profit organizations, universities, daycare centers, drug rehabs, and corporate workplaces. Occupational therapy assistants are compensated a median annual wage of $60,220, or $28.95 per hour. Ohio, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, and New York have the highest number of OTAs nationwide.

Training for Occupational Therapy Assistant Jobs

OTAs have a unique health care career that doesn’t require medical school or even a four-year degree. Most OTAs can complete an Associate of Applied Science within just 24 months. After high school graduation, prospective students enter community colleges or vocational schools with open admission. Picking one approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education is strongly suggested. Some examples include Grossmont College, Trinity Washington University, Remington College, McHenry County College, and Villa Maria College. Each accredited OTA program will integrate 60-80 semester credits with hands-on clinical practice. That’s critical for satisfying Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant requirements. Associate grads will then apply for the 200-question NBCOT Exam with a $515 fee. If unsuccessful, candidates can simply retake the test in 30 days.

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Occupational therapy assistants are skilled allied health practitioners who help patients perfect daily living and job skills firsthand. OTAs don’t have the authority to diagnose ailments, execute treatment decisions, or discharge patients though. Gaining more autonomy requires OTAs return to school for at least a Master of Occupational Therapy. Fortunately, there are a growing number of Bridge OTA-MOT programs available to advance from the associate level. Certified OTs expand on what occupational therapy assistants do with more clinical influence.