Whether you realize it or not, you see the incredibly valuable work occupational therapy assistants do every day. That 6th-grader next door who once struggled in school is now a self-confident student. Your great uncle, who suffered a stroke, is back to living independently in his home. The combat veteran down the street who once lived in isolation is now active in community organizations. Those are the real-life stories you can share after earning an occupational therapy assistant degree.
Simply put, occupational therapy is about helping people of all ages who want to do the many activities of life but sometimes cannot without one-on-one assistance, expert instruction, or the use of any number of assistive tools and equipment. Occupational therapy assistants carry out day-to-day therapy activities for OT clients.
Establishing a connection to clients is important to OTAs, and they love seeing the results resulting from their coaching and encouragement.
Interestingly, many who’ve become occupational therapy assistants – an OTA – turn to the occupational therapy field from different careers. If you’ve been a school teacher, a Certified Nursing Assistant, or an administrative assistant because you like interacting with people, the two years of college needed to earn an occupational therapy assistant degree may represent an exciting, fulfilling career opportunity.
J. Nichols, an occupational therapy assistant degree student, puts it this way: “Having the knowledge to affect the physical and mental well-being of a person, whether elderly or young, is truly special.”
OTA students earn an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S. degree), a two-year college degree consisting of 75 credit hours. More than 81% of OTAs have this degree.
The A.A.S. in OTA degree program encompasses classwork, collaborative group projects, practice in simulated living labs, and question-and-answer sessions with instructors and other students.
As early as the second semester, OTA students begin learning hands-on techniques to help clients achieve their best possible future. At the end of the program, students move on to Level I and Level II fieldwork. There, OTA students observing how OTAs help their clients in real-world scenarios and then begin applying the skills and knowledge learned under the guidance of trained OTA evaluators.
A great resource for learning about the Level I and Level II fieldwork expectations can be found here.
1. Get to know the AOTA
The national organization for occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) is the American Occupational Therapy Organization (AOTA). At www.aota.org, you’ll find the history of the profession, licensing requirements, career tools, and job search tips.
(Bonus tip: there’s an AOTA student membership that gives OTA students benefits at a heavily discounted rate.)
2. Prerequisite Courses You’ll Need
Typically, foundational courses to complete an OTA degree cover 24 credit hours in various areas, from English Composition to Speech to introductory classes like Anatomy and Physiology. Often, many of these courses are available in online, classroom, or hybrid format.
3. Explore the First-year OTA Student Toolkit
The AOTA’s “First-year Toolkit” a must-have resource for anyone considering earning the occupational therapy assistant degree. The tool-kit discusses
4. Meet OTA Program Faculty and Staff
No one knows the benefits of the profession and what it takes to succeed better than an OTA program’s faculty. In most programs, instructors have years of experience as an OTA. Meeting with them at an open house event or scheduling a tour will give you a clear picture of what to expect.
5. OTA Guide website
Another resource for learning about becoming an OTA is the website occupational therapy assistant.org. In addition to information like listing job duties and researching salaries for specific locations, you can connect with occupational therapist assistants.
6. Overview of the OTA Profession
For an unbiased look at the occupational therapy assistant degree and career options, go to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. This website describes the OTA role, education standards, and the many places OTAs work. You can also see the career outlook, which is projected at 33% over the next decade.
According to real-time compensation data at Salary.com, salaries for experienced OTAs range from $53,684 to $65,465. New OTA graduates typically earn $45-$47,000, depending on where they want to work.
7. Free “About OTA” eBook
For a comprehensive look at the OTA profession and the right criteria to consider when choosing an occupational therapy assistant degree program, you can download this free eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.
The more you know about becoming an OTA, the more you’ll know if this educational opportunity is right. If it is, get to know Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC), a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas. CUKC offers an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant.
Features of the CUKC program: