All tasks at occupational therapist assistant schools are completed under the supervision of professional occupational therapists. Educational programs available to aspiring occupational therapist assistants include certificates and associate's degrees. Two-year degree programs offer hands-on training exercises and fieldwork in addition to classroom studies. Prospective students need up-to-date immunizations. Voluntary certification can be pursued by graduates of accredited programs. There may be online courses and programs available at some schools.
Occupational Therapist Assistant Certificate
The 1-year occupational therapist assistant (OTA) certificate program provides the foundation for working as an OTA. Some community colleges and technical schools are phasing out the certificate program and changing it to an associate's degree, since occupational therapist assistants need more work-related experience to obtain a career.
Applicants are required to provide documentation, including a CPR certificate and proof of specific immunizations for Hepatitis B and tuberculosis. Drug tests and background checks are conducted on all applicants. Potential students need a high school diploma or equivalent.
Students enrolled in the certificate for occupational therapy assistant program learn the basics of anatomy, physiology and medical terminology. Examples of coursework offered in the program include:
- Introduction to occupational therapy
- Therapeutic skills and interventions
- Mental health
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Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapist Assistant
The 2-year associate's degree occupational therapist assistant program prepares students for entry-level careers, working side-by-side with professional occupational therapists. Students learn how to help patients regain basic daily activities, such as dressing or feeding themselves. Courses taken in the first year allow students to build a solid science foundation. The second year focuses learning on various occupational therapy techniques, which include completing at least 16 weeks of supervised fieldwork in a clinic or community setting.
The associate's degree program for occupational therapist assistant can be a competitive major. Students are advised to be highly competent in mathematics, English, communications and biology. Students must be up-to-date on inoculations, including tuberculosis and Hepatitis B, and know CPR. Criminal background checks and drug tests are also conducted on all applicants. Students must possess a high school diploma or equivalent.
If a student has completed the certificate in occupational therapy assistant program, his or her credits may be transferable, requiring the student to take one year's worth of classes instead of the standard two. Students use state-of-the-art equipment in their hands-on laboratory experiences to reinforce what they've learned in the classroom. Typical coursework for the associate's degree program includes:
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Physical rehabilitation theory
- Clinical conditions
Popular Career Options
After obtaining an associate's degree in the occupational therapy assistant program, graduates may find employment at several locations, including hospitals, clinics or homes for the aged. In addition to working as an occupational therapy assistant, other careers include:
- Teacher for accredited COTA programs
- Leader of health-risk reduction classes for elderly
- Occupational therapy assistant supervisor
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Occupational therapy assistants find employment in private or clinical offices, hospitals and residential care facilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov), occupational therapy assistant employment is expected to increase 43% from 2014-2024. This above-average number is due in part to the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require assistance. As reported by the BLS, the median annual pay of occupational therapy assistants was $57,870 in 2015.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Students who complete the certificate program for occupational therapy assistants can further their education and obtain an associate's degree, which is the more popular option. This degree provides work-like experience through fieldwork.
Additionally, if students graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), they can sit through the national exam to become certified occupational therapy assistants (COTAs). The National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy administers the exam, but students should be aware that national certification is voluntary and whether a student is required to obtain certification varies by state regulations. Currently, according to the BLS, 40 states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants through certification.
If graduates of the associate's degree program aspire to become occupational therapists, they need to further their education at a 4-year college or university. A master's degree is the minimum educational requirement to land a job as an occupational therapist.
Students can complete a certificate or associate's degree to be an occupational therapist assistant. There is always the option to go back to school to further education and obtain certification.