- Physical Fitness
- Technical Skills
The characteristics of a successful occupational therapy assistant can vary depending on the exact nature of their job. However, there are a few basic attributes that will come in handy for most OTAs. Here are five skills to develop if you’re considering a career in the occupational therapy field.
Occupational therapy assistants can wear a dozen different hats throughout the day. For example, an OTA working in a hospital might help with everything from physical rehab for car accident victims to administrative paperwork for elderly dementia patients. Part of their role as an “assistant” is to go wherever they’re needed, so it’s important that they’re able to switch gears depending on the task in front of them. Their OTs are depending on their versatility and adaptability as support staff.
You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to be an occupational therapy assistant, but a certain amount of stamina is required. OTAs can spend hours on their feet, and that time is often devoted to repetitive physical tasks that can take a toll on the body. OTAs might be called upon to sit, stand, kneel, lift, bend or carry things for hours on end. They might need to run through arm exercises for a stroke victim over and over again, or they might need to support a disabled patient during everyday activities like bathing and clothing themselves. The possibilities are endless, so OTAs need the strength to handle whatever comes their way.
The line can blur between occupational therapists and their assistants. While OTs are the ones in charge, they often take a big-picture approach to things like treatment plans and rehabilitation goals, and this leaves the everyday decision making to the OTAs. Occupational therapy assistants should be comfortable working on their own. They’ll need to be able to follow the instructions that are left to them, but they shouldn’t feel the urge to consult with their boss whenever a schedule or activity plan needs an adjustment. They should be fine with making judgement calls about their patients and following through.
While the job of an occupational therapy assistant isn’t as tech-driven as others, it can still require a working knowledge of computers. OTAs might need the skills to register patients in a hospital database, fill out digital insurance forms or transfer important documents to doctors and caregivers. They might need to teach a client how to use a touchscreen device or how to drive a smart car. Depending on their field, they might even be exposed to cutting-edge technology like socially assistive robots that are being used by therapists of all kinds to help kids cope with trauma. Even if they aren’t experts in technical matters right away, they should have the drive and the intelligence to learn.
Last but certainly not least, occupational therapy assistants need to be compassionate towards their clients. Whether they’re working in a rehab center or a retirement home, their job involves direct contact with people at their most vulnerable, and that puts the OTA in a position of trust. They should have empathy for anyone who needs their help, and they should be able to offer the necessary assistance without any kind of judgement. Not only will this improve their bond with their clients, but it will also strengthen their patience and persistence when it comes to difficult tasks. When OTAs genuinely believe in their patients, they’re much less likely to get frustrated by setbacks and plateaus.
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Occupational therapy is a popular field, so if you want to stand out from other job applicants, you’ll need certain skills to be a qualified and well-regarded worker. Consider these five characteristics of a successful occupational therapy assistant if you need a blueprint for the future.