Is a health career for you? Do you care for people and their connection to better health and wellness over their lifetime? Do you know someone who overcame debilitating conditions like social anxiety, depression, or a life-altering injury? If these scenarios got your attention, and you thought, “I’d like to help those people!” That’s what you’ll do when you decide to become an occupational therapy assistant – an OTA.
Yes, it’s true. More than 84% of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) get into the OTA workforce with an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. The two-year A.A.S. degree comes from an occupational therapy assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
OTAs carry out therapy plans, so they get to interact with clients every day. OTA students know they want to coach and encourage clients to achieve the goals in life they want.
Sometimes, it’s compensating therapies to deal with a sensory processing disorder. Sometimes, it’s working with a client post-surgery so they can recover more quickly. Sometimes, it’s working within a school and helping a child overcome developmental delays that interfere with age-appropriate learning.
It sounds like something that you want to do, right?
When you become an occupational therapy assistant, know this: the OTA profession is part of the fast-expanding healthcare industry.
Even better, great OTA students don’t have to be superstars in science or math. There is preliminary coursework for the OTA degree, which is 24 college hours of subjects like English composition and psychology, plus basic anatomy, physiology, and an introduction to healthcare terminology.
Be assured that OTA instructors will guide you through these courses because they want you to succeed. The most important aspect of becoming an OTA is the desire to help others live life to the fullest.
Of course, each OTA degree program will have its differences. Still, in looking at what an OTA class setup covers, it’s easy to see why the choice to become an occupational therapy assistant is attractive.
The A.A.S. Occupational Therapy Assistant program consists of a series of core OTA courses, including academic and clinical learning, plus approximately 4-5 months of clinical education.
1st and 2nd Semesters (Year 1)
To orient students to the world of occupational therapy, expect classes on the principles of occupational therapy and ways to analyze a client’s abilities and performance. Other classes explore the different care strategies for people of all ages and abilities.
Also included in this first year are courses introducing OT’s many therapeutic interventions. Intervention is an occupational therapy term that provides for vocational retraining, rehabilitation, workplace/industrial issues, health, wellness, and safety training and education.
3rd and 4th Semesters (Year 2)
The second – and final – year of preparation to become an occupational therapy assistant concentrates on learning and practicing OTA skills and knowledge. Typically, there’s a specialty component, such as mental health strategies, plus a healthcare management class from an occupational therapy perspective.
In Level I fieldwork, students learn from observing OTAs. In the final semester of the second year, students move on to Level II fieldwork. Here, students help clients and receive constructive guidance from trained fieldwork evaluators. The fieldwork components usually take four-to-five months.
A final capstone course is an occupational therapy seminar.
An accredited OTA degree program prepares students for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification Examination, which results in the designation of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
When employers see COTA certification, they know OTA grads are fully ready for the workplace. Most states in the U.S. require OTAs to have a license, and state exams typically mirror the COTA certification knowledge.
Graduating from an OTA degree program is rewarding. A starting salary for new OTAs is more than $45,374 yearly and often is more in areas of the country where the OTA need is higher. According to salary surveys reported by Salary.com, the median salary for all OTAs working today is $60,950.
The OTA career outlook is good, too, because occupational therapy is proving valuable in lowering hospital readmission rates and improving the ability of senior adults to live independently in their homes. As of September 2022, the career outlook for OTAs is 25+% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas. CUKC offers an applied science degree you can earn in as little as two years: the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant.
Beyond the class and lab time that introduces knowledge and client skills, our occupational therapy assistant degree helps ensure career confidence through supervised multiple-month fieldwork experiences. The fieldwork – worksite learning – happens while you’re in the program! (Learn more about the extensive OTA fieldwork here.)
Other features of the OTA degree program at CUKC:
To learn more about how to become an OTA, request information today. Also, download this free career eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.