There are two major industry-recognized certification options available to occupational therapy assistants (OTAs). The application process for these starts online, but the OTAs must meet certain in-person requirements to earn the credentials. The primary professional certification for OTAs is offered through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). The certification exam is proctored and administered only via designated testing sites. OTAs can prepare for this exam, however, by taking a practice test online through the agency's website.
The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) also offers specialty certifications that apply to specific skill sets and areas of focus in occupational therapy. Both credentialing organizations require substantial work experience, an accredited degree earned by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and a passing grade on the NBCOT certification exam. OTAs must also be licensed by the state in which they practice. NBCOT certification satisfies this requirement in some states; however, other states conduct their own licensing tests.
For students who are interested in a related program where coursework can be completed online, the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) designation may be a suitable alternative. This certification is offered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA). To be eligible to take the exam, applicants need have completed a medical assisting diploma program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). These programs offer online coursework but require laboratory and externships be completed at clinical sites. Students are trained to provide clinical and administrative assistance to physicians. When students finish, they can take the CMA exam and apply for entry-level jobs as medical assistants.
NBCOT Certification Requirements
NBCOT certification requires OTAs to pass the NBCOT COTA exam. COTA, of course, stands for Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. The exam tests candidates' knowledge of such things as collecting pertinent patient information; implementing patient healthcare plans and therapeutic procedures; and upholding professional standards in the workplace. In addition to passing this exam, NBCOT certification requires OTAs to fulfill the following eligibility requirements:
- Graduate with an ACOTE-accredited degree
- Complete all fieldwork requirements
- Agree to follow the NBCOT code of conduct
AOTA Certification Requirements
AOTA specialty certification gives candidates the opportunity to prove their expertise in providing occupational therapy as applicable to a particular life skill or situation. For example, candidates may be tested over their OT skills for helping a patient re-learn how to drive a car. 'Driving & Community Mobility' is one of five specialty certification areas for which students may choose to take an exam. The additional test areas include: 'Environmental Modification'; 'Feeding, Eating, Swallowing'; 'Low Vision'; and 'School Systems'. Criteria for AOTA specialty certification varies per specialty area, but the basics are as follows:
- Graduation with an ACOTE-accredited degree for OTAs
- Certification from NBCOT
- Compliance with state licensure requirements
- Experience that includes a minimum of 2,000 work hours as an OT assistant over the past five years, with at least 600 hours spent working within the desired specialty certification area
To summarize, occupational therapy assistants can gain professional certification from either NBCOT, which offers a general certification, or the AOTA, which offers specialty-focused credentials. To take either of these exams, OTAs must have met specific prerequisite criteria; an online alternative is to prepare for and take the CMA exam.