Occupational Therapy Assistant: Career Education Summary

Sep 24, 2019

You may begin a career as an occupational therapy assistant with an associate's degree in an accredited occupational therapy program and completion of any state licensing requirements. Occupational therapy assistants typically work in hospitals, occupational therapists' offices and nursing homes.

Essential Information

Occupational therapy assistants help mentally and physically impaired patients, as well as those with emotional and developmental disabilities, to do therapeutic activities or learn to function at a higher level. Required knowledge and skills are gained through an accredited associate's degree program; professional certification and state licensure requirements may also apply.

Required Education Associate's degree
Other Requirements National certification and state licensure
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 33%*
Median Salary (2018) $60,220*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Summary

Working under the guidance and supervision of occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants help patients maintain their health and mobility. This generally includes providing rehabilitative services and educational instruction. Occupational therapy assistants often develop a rapport with patients in order to understand when to push them and when to hold back. Additionally, they're usually responsible for reporting back to the occupational therapist regarding a patient's progress.

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities in the field are expected to grow much faster than the national average through 2028 (www.bls.gov). An expected increase in the number of disabled older adults was a major factor in employment growth. In May 2018, the BLS reported that occupational therapy assistants in the 90th percentile or higher earned $80,980 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $39,620 or less per year.

Education Requirements

An individual can become an occupational therapy assistant by completing an associate's degree program at an accredited vocational school or community college. Through a curriculum of lectures, labs and clinical experiences, students learn about treatment options for patients with mental disorders, physical ailments and chronic illnesses.

An occupational therapy assistant is not the same as an occupational therapy aide. An occupational therapy assistant receives his or her education through an accredited program and is eligible for certification, while an occupational therapy aide learns on the job and is not eligible for certification.

Licensure and Certification

Although they differ in their requirements, most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed, certified or registered, reports the BLS. Occupational therapy assistants working with early intervention programs or schools may have additional educational requirements. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy provides an exam for national certification. Passing this exam results in the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential.

Occupational therapy assistants help individuals with disabilities or injuries in acquiring or regaining the skills needed for daily life. They need an associate's degree, and most states require licensing; professional certification can be earned as well. With a much faster projected job growth rate, this occupation offers strong career opportunities in a number of settings.

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