When you’re unfamiliar with healthcare employment, it’s hard to know what specific roles are, let alone what they do. Did you know there are careers in physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT)? Common characteristics include being an excellent outlet for your “high-care” instincts and talents. However, OTA careers (occupational therapy assistants) are on the rise because of the benefits delivered to clients of all ages.
For OTAs, therapy goes beyond physical recovery and repair. OTAs (and OT in general) are about helping clients achieve any of the things that “occupy” their life. These things can be simple (transferring from wheelchair to car safely) or complex (helping someone adapt to ongoing cognitive challenges).
Enter the OTA career, and the clients OTAs get to help may have developmental, emotional, sensory, mental, or physical difficulties. When you choose to attend an occupational therapy assistant school, your education will include learning about interventions. This term refers to activities or plans for clients to live as they wish or perform basic daily actions.
Another way to think about what OTAs do is to know the term ADLs (Activities of Daily Living). Examples include:
In addition, an OTA career means you can help clients with IADLs (Instrumental Activities of Daily Living). These activities make a difference in someone’s quality of life, including
|Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)||Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA)|
|Assist clients in performing daily living skills and self-care tasks||Address the physical problem, often due to injury|
|Goes beyond physical recovery, including issues that interfere with the enjoyment of life: developmental and cognitive concerns, mental and emotional health, and social interaction skills||Use rehabilitative exercise to recover muscle strength and range of motion|
|Centers on modifications to behaviors and uses assistive strategies and tools, based on each client’s needs||A PTA career focuses on fitness/wellness plans to recover from injuries and resume a desired activity level|
|An OTA might work in a hospital, for a doctor’s practice, a rehab center, for home health agencies, or in assisted living facilities. Because of their varied duties, OTAs must have diverse interpersonal abilities – compassion, patience, active listening, creative problem-solving, etc.||About 72% of PTAs work in hospitals or private physical therapy practices. On a typical day, they concentrate on restoring physical function through exercises, stretching, massage, and gait and balance training.|
The physical therapy assistant and the occupational therapy assistant generally earn a two-year associate degree, usually an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S. degree).
Applied science degrees are highly focused on mastering skills and knowledge that are immediately transferable to a career. That’s probably why more than 81% of OTAs in the workforce choose the A.A.S. degree.
Preparing for an OTA career also means going through a supervised four-to-five-month fieldwork experience. It’s a unique part of the OTA education, but for many OTA grads, it’s confirmation they’ve found their best fit out of all the many helping careers available.
Like PTAs, OTAs earn their professional credentials via a national certifying exam. Fully accredited OTA degree programs are designed to prepare you for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Certification Examination. Pass that, and you earn a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) designation.
Salary expectations in an OTA career certainly meet expectations. First-year OTA salaries range from $45,000 to $47,000. Salary.com puts the salaries for experienced OTAs at $47,866 to $64,863.
What’s truly interesting is the wide variety of work settings an OTA career offers:
Because “OT” is being used in more ways and places than ever before, the Bureau of Labor Statistics sees the number of OTAs needed increasing by more than 30% through 2030.
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a nonprofit, private chiropractic and health sciences university in Overland Park, Kansas, a large suburb of Kansas City. The two-year Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant degree program at CUKC includes 16 core courses and four-to-five months of fieldwork experience. (Read about Level I and Level II fieldwork here.)
Highlights of the CUKC 2-year OTA program:
Is an OTA career for you? Learn more by connecting with an admissions advisor today. Be sure to download this free eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career.