Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Education Requirements

Aug 21, 2019

Discover how to become a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA). Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and COTA certification to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)?

Certified occupational therapy assistants support occupational therapists in providing rehabilitative care to patients with mental, emotional or physical impairments that prevent them from working or living independently. They aim to help patients recover from, or compensate for, an ailment and resume a productive life. Almost all programs to become an occupational therapy assistant lead to associate's degrees. Certification, licensing, or registration is mandated to work in most states. Some states utilize the certification exam offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy for licensure.

Required Education Associate's degree in occupational therapy assisting
Licensure Required by most states
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 29%*
Median Salary (2018) $60,220*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become an Occupational Therapist Assistant

To become a certified occupational therapy assistant you must first enter into an associate's degree program, which will include courses on medical terminology, kinesiology, and intervention techniques. Once you've completed program requirements, you can sit for your board certification exam and apply for state licensure.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Education Requirements

With the vast majority of occupational therapy assistant programs offered as associate's degrees, a high school diploma is usually the only hard prerequisite. Some schools may give preference to students who have completed biology courses or volunteered at a healthcare facility.

The first year of an occupational therapy assistant program is typically devoted to classroom work. A fieldwork or clinical practice component augments classes the second year. Classes include medical terminology, neuroscience concepts, kinesiology, physical rehab, intervention techniques, pediatrics and gerontology. Students who complete this program are prepared to work under an occupational therapist in acute care, rehabilitation, home healthcare, long-term care and outpatient settings.

Licensing and COTA Certification

Nearly all the U.S. states mandate licensing, registration or certification for occupational therapy assistants. Some states accept a national certifying exam offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy as meeting their regulations, but others have their own licensing exam. Assistants who work in schools or early intervention programs may also need education-related credentials, such as education classes or a teaching certificate. Many states require occupational therapy assistants to take part in workshops and continuing education courses in order to maintain their certification.

Duties and Skills

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with an occupational therapist to devise a treatment plan and then lead patients through the plan. This generally entails helping patients perform stretching, strengthening and range of motion exercises, as well as acclimating them to wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices. Assistants also monitor the progress of treatment and suggest changes if a patient isn't progressing. Occupational therapy assistants also need to be adept at verbal communication, sympathetic to the emotional needs of patients and perceptive to any difficulties patients have adjusting to limited circumstances.

In summary, occupational therapy assistants help clients with mental, physical, or emotional impairments work through rehabilitation plans under the supervision of an occupational therapist. Depending on the state, registration, licensing or certification is required. Generally, an associate degree can help applicants meet prerequisites for these credentials.

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