Occupational Therapy Assistant

Acute Care Occupational Therapy Assistant, Behavior Specialist   More Names
Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA), Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant/Licensed (COTA/L), Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA), Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant-Licensed (COTA-L), Health Service Worker, Independent Living Specialist, Licensed Occupational Therapy Assistant, Occupational Therapist, Occupational Therapist Assistant, Occupational Therapist Assistants, Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA), Occupational Therapy Assistants, Occupational Therapy Technician, Rehabilitation Assistant, School Based Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, Staff Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant/Licensed (Staff COTA/L)

Working under the supervision of an occupational therapist, help patients with treatments that are part of their rehabilitation services plans. Select and carry-out activities and exercises for patients.

Occupational therapy assistants help patients with work-related injuries, or mental, physical, emotional or developmental disabilities to improve basic motor functions and cognitive reasoning abilities, including adjusting and compensating for permanent loss of limbs or motor or reasoning skills. They also monitor and document each patient's treatment progress.

Occupational therapy assistants work under the direction of one or more occupational therapists. They are employed in clinics and outpatient therapy offices, hospitals, large multi-purpose medical centers, nursing homes and school systems. Others work for local, state, or federal government agencies.

Working as part of a team that includes occupational therapists and occupational therapy aides, they work to improve patients' overall quality of life and ability to perform daily activities. They assist in the planning, implementing, and administering of therapy programs designed to restore, reinforce, and enhance physical, mental, and emotional performance using selected activities and equipment.

Especially in cases of injured workers, they help them return to employment, where possible, by instructing them on ways to compensate for lost limbs or functions. In cases of those with learning or other mental disabilities, they conduct activities and exercises designed to increase life success skills and independence.

Occupational therapy assistants instruct or assist in instructing patients and families in work, social, and living skills; in the care and use of adaptive equipment; and in other means to adjust to injury or disability. They observe patients' progress, attitudes, and accomplishments and record this information in patients' files. They also discuss with occupational therapists their observations and findings on how to improve rehabilitative care.

Occupational therapy assistants encourage patients and help them to keep a positive attitude towards their treatment and rehabilitation progress. As directed, they may supervise the tasks and responsibilities of occupational therapist aides, including the preparation and maintenance of treatment areas so that they remain clean and sanitary at all times. They also perform such clerical and administrative duties as may be needed.

Occupational therapy assistants have to be well-organized, detail-oriented, and caring. They also need to be able to take directions; work well in teams; and have at least a moderate degree of strength in order to assist patients during therapy sessions. As directed, they may also aid occupational therapists in providing treatments.

The position of occupational therapy assistant can be an entry-level, first step on the occupational therapy career ladder, or it can serve as a next step for someone who starts out with less education and training as an occupational therapy aide. With experience, an occupational therapy assistant may become a supervisor and over time a department head. With more formal education and training, an occupational therapy assistant may choose to become instructor or possibly an occupational therapist.

Credentials Needed: Most states and the District of Columbia (plus Puerto Rico and Guam) regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants either by requiring licensing, registration, or certification. These requirements vary among the states. Before beginning studies to become an occupational therapist assistant, an individual should contact their state's licensing board to determine the exact licensing or regulatory requirements that need to be met in order to practice in the state.

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) sponsors the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential. The COTA is required by some states to practice as an occupational therapist assistant, while in other states it is a voluntary industry based certification. Eligibility requirements for the COTA certification included graduating from a college with an accredited or approved entry-level occupational therapy assistant degree, completing field work requirements, and passing computer-based COTA examination. More information about this certification is available on the NBCOT website.

Some Key Things to Remember: Occupational therapy assistants help occupational therapists deliver patient treatments that are part of a rehabilitation services plan. They select and carry-out activities and exercises for persons with work-related injuries - or mental, physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities - according to their needs and capabilities.

A two-year associate's degree for occupational therapy assistants from an accredited postsecondary education and training program is required to qualify for licensure and employment for this occupation. Most states require occupational therapy assistants to be either licensed, registered, or earn the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
43% - Much faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $48,790 - $70,550    Hourly: $23 - $34
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

Occupational therapy assistants need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. For example, they may need to lift patients and equipment. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Legal Requirements
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(Data Drawn from O*NET)

Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Associate's Degree (High School + 2 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

43% - Much faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $48,790 - $70,550

Hourly: $23 - $34