Students seeking an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) career are entering one of the most in-demand health care roles available today. In a university's two-year occupational therapy assistant program, OTA professionals help meet the diverse needs of special populations: children, youth, recovering workers, and senior adults.
Here are answers to some of the common questions asked about the OTA profession and information describing how OTAs are helping to create a better health care environment.
Q. What is occupational therapy?
A. Occupational therapy is a profession that helps people of all ages to do the things they want and need to do to live their best possible lives.
Q. What does an OTA do?
A. An OTA works in partnership with an occupational therapist to assist individuals who struggle with daily living activities due to illness, disability or injury.
A two-year occupational therapy assistant program leads to an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant. OTAs carry out the details of an occupational therapy plan, report on the client's progress, and can recommend changes that will ensure the client's goals for their life can be met.
Q. What is involved in occupational therapy?
A. OTAs lead clients through a therapy plan that's customized for each person's situation. Some examples:
- Monitoring exercises to regain the dexterity needed for a new job skill
- Demonstrating the best ways to move safely and confidently in the home with a prosthetic limb
- Selecting assistive technology that allows someone to get dressed alone or prepare a meal
- Helping a child in a wheelchair to navigate school hallways.
Occupational therapy assistants work with individuals in homes, schools, community centers, rehabilitation hospitals, and assisted living facilities.
Q. What are the elements of an occupational therapy assistant program?
A. OTA students have 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 mastering hands-on techniques to help clients achieve their best possible future. As they gain skills and knowledge, students move on to Level I and Level II fieldwork.
Q. Occupational therapy assistant programs have a fieldwork requirement. What does fieldwork mean?
A. Fieldwork refers to a four-to-five-month experience working on location with clients. There are two fieldwork levels, each with different objectives defined by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
A trained evaluator guides OTA students. The goal is to ensure OTAs know what to expect and how to work effectively in a client-practitioner setting. Learn more about fieldwork here.
Q. What type of person likes being an OTA?
A. Successful OTAs have certain personality qualities: Friendly demeanor, compassionate, effective in one-to-one communication. They are also detailed oriented, have a great work ethic, and are physically able to move patients to different therapy positions when needed.
A talent for being creative in therapy approaches also is highly useful – a technique or tool that works for one person may not work well for someone else.
Q. Is this a career I can have for a lifetime?
A. Those seeking an OTA career can expect a robust job market for their skills. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates job growth for OTAs at 29 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.
OTA career growth is due to several factors:
- The number of aging baby boomers
- The desire of senior adults to remain in their homes as long as possible
- The demonstrated effectiveness OT has shown in treating children and young adults with developmental disorders, such as autism and sensory processing issues.
OTAs are in the list of "best health care support jobs" published by US News and World Report. According to the BLS, the annual median compensation for an experienced OTA is $59,310. Starting salaries for newly graduated OTAs average $45,000, and can go higher in high-demand states like Texas and Virginia.
The OTA Degree Program at CUKC
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, health care focused university located in Overland Park, Kansas. CUKC is an ideal place to begin your health care education.
The accelerated A.A.S. in Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at CUKC is a comprehensive OTA program consisting of 16 core courses and the four-to-five months of supervised fieldwork education. Our goal is to get you eligible to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
In the CUKC OTA program, hands-on instruction is the norm, aided by experienced OTA faculty and an on-campus simulated living quarters lab. Completing the OTA degree takes as little as two years.
Not sure when you'll begin school? You'll have the choice to start in spring, summer, or fall.
What questions do you have about becoming an OTA? Get the answers by replying here, or download our free OTA ebook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.