Often, the revelation that a career is “right for me” is an outgrowth of other people seeing talents in you that you didn’t, or discovering an occupation that you didn’t know about. For Jeanne Boone, it was a little bit of both. Jeanne is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). After getting her degree from an occupational therapy assistant school, she first went directly into the workforce. Now, she’s the academic fieldwork coordinator for the Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) degree program at Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC).
Occupational Therapy Assistant School: “A Good Fit”
Jeanne began her career as a preschool teacher at a child development center for a local hospital.
“I had several parents there who were occupational therapists,” Jeanne said. “They encouraged me to apply because they thought becoming an OTA would be a good fit for me. I began researching the profession. I was familiar with nursing because I have several extended family members who are nurses and also PTs (physical therapists). After doing the research into those degree paths, I realized the occupational therapy field was a much better fit for me than nursing or physical therapy.”
Prior to her OTA career decision, Jeanne had earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. She had already taken many of the prerequisite (basic core courses) OTA students need to complete their occupational therapy assistant degree. (Most universities with an OTA program offer these basic courses online, as well as on-campus.)
Jeanne liked the concept behind the two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S. degree) in OTA. The accelerated and applied nature of the A.A.S. degree program allowed her to focus on understanding and applying the occupational therapy principles, strategies, and methods she would use while working one-on-one with her clients.
After graduating from her OTA program and working with clients for 17 years, Jeanne increasingly became interested in educating other students about becoming an OTA. From being in the OT field, she saw how much OTAs help others meet the challenges emotional, physical, and cognitive conditions across the lifespan.
“I became an OTA educator about six years ago,” Jeanne said. “The goal of teaching was always part of my plan when I began my OTA program. This is why, as a practitioner, I was a fieldwork educator. I always enjoyed having students.”
A highlight of her occupational therapy assistant school experience was learning from encouraging, compassionate, and dedicated OTA faculty. Jeanne was convinced that a position in OTA education – helping new OTA students navigate a program – was the next step in her occupational therapy assistant career.
“I believe it is a good thing for OTA degree students to have a faculty member who has been where they are,” Jeanne said. “It gives students the opportunity to see what career possibilities lie ahead for them as an OTA.”
From OTA to OTA Program Fieldwork Coordinator
Some of the unique and highly practical parts of an OTA degree program are the two eight-week Level II fieldwork rotations students receive when they are nearing graduation.
The fieldwork requirements, set by the American Council of Occupational Education (ACOTE), encompass Level I fieldwork (observing and understanding client needs) and Level II fieldwork (guided participation in client interactions). At each level, students receive feedback by accredited fieldwork evaluators.
Jeanne said this on-the-job experience is tremendously valuable for showing students all that an occupational therapy assistant career involves. In occupational therapy assistant schools, students learn best practices for interacting with patients of all ages. Research shows that applying occupational therapy activities and interventions as early as possible help prevent more significant issues later in life.
For example, a school-age child who has fallen behind developmentally, or has a condition such as ADD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), may feel frustration or become overly self-critical. Through no fault of their own, these students may struggle to accomplish daily living activities, such as adhering to a school schedule, participating successfully in class activities, and interacting socially with classmates.
An OTA serves as a teacher, guide, and coach, using their knowledge to offer personalized strategies to achieve personal goals. Examples include showing how to break a task down into steps, navigating crowded hallways, and methods to compensate for life-interrupting sensory-based triggers.
Her Efforts Help Occupational Therapy Assistant Students Achieve Success
In her position at CUKC, she’s able to have a direct impact on the quality of education students receive.
“As academic fieldwork coordinator for the OTA program, I interact with the students during their fieldwork courses,” Jeanne said. “Through agreements with community partners, I locate sites for students to attend as part of their fieldwork experience, and I also teach the practicum course in the program.”
The practicum, she notes, further prepares students for the OTA workforce by engaging their clinical reasoning, and preparing them for Level II fieldwork. Level II fieldwork is where students take the knowledge and skills gained from the academic portion of an OT program and apply it for the population they desire to serve. (Learn more about the fieldwork experiences in this blog.)
The range of OTA clients includes six areas:
“My specialty areas are geriatrics, rehab, and pediatrics,” Jeanne said. “I worked in all those settings, sometimes at the same time, throughout my career. I like having a positive impact on clients that I have worked with but also on their families. Our role as an OTA is to use what is meaningful to the client and provide strategies to adapt or modify the way a task is performed to live as independently as possible.”
Occupational Therapy Assistant School at CUKC
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private, healthcare-focused university in Overland Park, Kansas. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S. degree) in Occupational Therapy Assistant at CUKC includes 16 core courses and four-to-five months of required fieldwork experience. Coursework is presented in eight-week segments to immerse students in their class subjects.
At CUKC, the OTA program offers class starts in spring, summer, and fall each year. Other features of the program: