At the 2-year degree level, programs in occupational therapy are offered for occupational therapy assistants rather than for full therapists. At the 4-year degree level, bachelor's programs in applied health studies or health sciences can be found to help those with an associate's degree advance in their career. Aspiring occupational therapy assistants can find associate's and bachelor's degree programs that offer online courses, but these programs require in-person practicums due to the hands-on nature of the field. These assistants are legally required to have a minimum of an associate's degree from an accredited program and to be licensed in most states. Check for state-specific regulations when choosing an educational program.
Associate Degree for Occupational Therapy Assistants
Occupational therapists provide rehabilitation for people suffering from physical disabilities, such as repetitive strain injuries or chronic pain. OTs can also provide a better quality of life for patients with autism, Down syndrome, or mental illness. Occupational therapist assistants and aides help OTs provide care. To gain employment in the field, OT assistants must receive an associate degree from a school accredited by the education council of the American Occupational Therapy Association. This council does not typically accredit bachelor's degree programs.
Many associate's degree programs for occupational therapy assistants offer online courses, but all require on-site clinical training components. General education coursework in anatomy, biology, communications, English, history, and psychology must be fulfilled prior to enrollment in most programs. Certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) may also be required. OT assistants should possess the physical strength necessary to assist some patients.
Program Information and Requirements
Students may obtain an associate's degree in 1-2 years. Some programs require students to attend on-campus lab sessions on nights or weekends. While coursework can be completed almost entirely through distance learning, supervised field training must be performed.
List of Online Courses
Coursework covers a range of occupational therapy services in assisting patients with physical, developmental, or mental impairments. Psychology, anatomy, and classes on illnesses help students learn to diagnose disabilities. Courses in healthcare skills and methods of treatment prepare online students for clinical training.
Students survey the history of occupational therapy. Legal and ethical issues are addressed as well as the range of services provided by practitioners.
Occupational therapists help patients with mental illnesses to lead productive lives. Distance learners study diagnosis and treatment methods.
The elderly suffer from disabilities due to physical age, injury, stroke, and disease. Students analyze the emotional, mental, and physical changes affecting the elderly and methods of care.
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Bachelor's Degree in Applied Health Studies or Health Sciences
Practicing occupational therapy assistants with associate degrees who wish to obtain bachelor's degrees may consider an online applied health studies or health sciences program. These rare programs provide distance learning options for professional development and serve as a bridge for continued graduate study. Applied health studies focus on the management skills necessary for leadership roles in the healthcare industry. Health sciences students are introduced to current theories pertaining to legal, ethical, and religious issues of patient care.
Program Information and Requirements
Designed for working professionals, program applicants must be licensed, certified, or registered in a healthcare field. Programs can be completed in two years, provided a passing grade was received in general education and content courses submitted for transfer credit. Although courses are delivered online, the theories and methods being studied are intended to be applied to hands-on assignments whether at a student's current workplace or through a clinical practicum. Some programs may require on-site presentation of a final research project.
List of Online Courses
Coursework leading to a bachelor's degree in applied health studies is geared toward administrative roles. Students hone communication skills in addition to studying topics, such as healthcare policy and medical ethics, which directly relate to the occupational therapy industry.
Distance learners study the ways in which our experiences are filtered through our cultural perspective and thus how cultural sensitivity is essential to providing quality healthcare. Emotional stress resulting from cultural discrimination can be as detrimental to health as other disabilities.
Case studies are used to illustrate state and federal healthcare policies. Students address public access to healthcare and patient advocacy.
Aging in America
Technological and pharmaceutical advances in healthcare have resulted in increased demands for serving a larger elderly population. Students explore how societal attitudes towards aging populations impact public policy as well as issues related to treatment.
Career Information for Graduates
Occupational therapy assistants and aides can work at hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, prisons, community centers, and schools. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while occupational therapist aides mostly have on-the-job training, an associate's degree from an accredited school is the educational minimum for occupational therapist assistants. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary was $31,090 for occupational therapist aides and $58,340 for occupational therapist assistants (www.bls.gov).
According to the BLS, most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed. Requirements vary by state, but generally include an associate's degree from an accredited school and a clinical internship. An education degree or related coursework may be required for OT assistants to work in schools. Some states require OT assistants to pass a certification exam offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy. Candidates interested in advancing to OT positions may do so by pursuing continuing education classes.
There are online associate's and bachelor's degrees designed to educate aspiring occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants, allowing students to take their entire curriculum online with the addition of an in-person practicum at a healthcare facility. Most states will require graduates to become licensed and earn certification, and bachelor's graduates can pursue master's learning and continuing education classes to advance in their careers.