“I guess if you’re like me – you find pleasure in helping improve people’s lives from every walk of life – this is something to look into.” That’s the opinion of occupational therapy assistant (OTA) student Taylor G., and it summarizes the career fit he found in deciding to earn an occupational therapy assistant degree.
“So, yeah, the drive to help people is what drew me to this profession,” Taylor says, recounting how his parents instilled in him the value of helping others in need when you can.
So now, instead of jobs like scooping snow off his elderly neighbors’ driveways (for free), he’s mastering the skills to help people of all ages who’re facing life challenges.
OTA clients range from kids falling behind peers because of age-based developmental delays to senior adults adapting to cognitive impairments because of injury or conditions like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
“In my limited time in OTA clinical settings, the amount of gratitude people express to OTs and OTAs is pretty satisfying,” Taylor says. “It’s something that definitely keeps you going through the times when the OTA program may get a little tough.”
Yes, learning the skills and knowledge an OTA must have in two years is intense. You can check out what an occupational therapy degree program schedule looks like here.
Students like Taylor, who want an active profession working one-on-one with people, love the decidedly hands-on nature of OTA classes, activities, and group discussions about therapy options and implementation.
“The professors and teachers we’ve had from the get-go are extremely personable, very caring,” Taylor says. “This made learning much easier. That caring goes hand-in-hand with a career as an occupational therapy assistant.”
OTA students understand the responsibility they have to carry out the highly personalized therapy designed by their occupational therapist (OT) partners. They take great pride in seeing their clients achieve their life goals, which can be as basic as activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing themselves, or more complex ones such as combating social, emotional, or mental conditions. After all, the goal of the occupational therapy profession is about assisting others “live life to its fullest.”
Like many who hadn’t heard much about what OTAs do, Taylor was unaware that occupational therapy practitioners help reduce costly hospital readmissions and that early identification of conditions in children can prevent more significant challenges later in life.
He also was pleased to know most OTAs complete their degree in two years, rather than four, and that there was such a huge demand for OTAs in today’s healthcare economy.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), more than 80% of practicing OTAs choose to earn an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Occupational Therapy Assistant.
The OTA profession is the 4th fastest growing profession, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. OTA jobs are anticipated to expand by 35% from 2020-2030.
Taylor’s bottom-line assessment was that of all professions he was considering, becoming an OTA was the right fit for his life’s goals.
“I had originally thought I would shadow some occupational therapists, or maybe shadow some physical therapists,” Taylor says. “Then, the first person I shadowed for a couple of days was an OTA, and I really liked it. So, I was like, ‘Why look elsewhere when I think this is something I want to do?’”
Successful OTAs have certain personality qualities: Friendly demeanor, naturally compassionate, keenly observant of client needs and capabilities, and effective in one-to-one communication. They are also detail-oriented, love to teach others, and have a great work ethic. A talent for being creative in therapy approaches also is highly desired – a technique or tool that works for one person may not work well for someone else.
How do OTA students like Taylor master so many ways to help so many people? One big answer is the OTA fieldwork experience. OTA fieldwork is the final phase of an occupational therapy assistant degree program, covering about six to seven months before graduation.
The first fieldwork step in an occupational therapy assistant degree program is called Level I fieldwork. Its goal is to ensure you know how to work in a client-practitioner setting. Students go to work sites for eight-week rotations in Level II fieldwork and are supervised by registered occupational therapists (OTR) or certified occupational therapy assistants (COTA).
After their degree is complete, students are fully prepared to take the national exam to become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
“If you find pleasure in helping,” Taylor says, “then the OTA program is the right place.”
Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) is a healthcare-focused, private, nonprofit university offering an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S degree) in Occupational Therapy Assistant.
CUKC links the teaching and learning process used by occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants to ensure a high-quality educational experience. Other features of the CUKC program:
For more information about our occupational therapy assistant degree, request information here. A more detailed resource about the occupational therapy assistant profession is this free eBook: Your Complete Guide to an Occupational Therapy Career.