While physical therapy focuses on muscle building and motor skills, occupational therapy teaches the disabled how to relearn activities of daily living, such as bathing, working or playing sports. Individuals must complete a 2-year associate's degree program at an accredited college or institution before gaining certification or licensure as an occupational therapy assistant, which is required in most states. Graduates may have to pass competency exams in addition to meeting education requirements.
A high school diploma or GED certificate is the most necessary prerequisite to enter an occupational therapy assistant program. In addition to classroom and lab work, much of the program consists of clinical experience working with patients in healthcare settings.
Associate's Degree in Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy assistants require knowledge of the human body and a basic understanding of human behavior and psychology. Students enrolled in occupational therapy assistant associate's degree programs also learn methods of spreading public health information to the general public along with the use of practical means to assist licensed occupational therapists. Some occupational therapist assistant classes include:
- Medical terminology
- Human occupations
- Developmental psychology
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Physical rehabilitation techniques
- Occupational therapy clinical
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
There were about 44,990 occupational therapy assistants working in the U.S. in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with 31% projected employment growth from 2018-2028. That percentage is quite a bit higher than the average predicted job growth rate. The growing number of elderly patients suffering from debilitating illness will increase the need for occupational therapy assistants in health care facilities and long-term nursing homes. The median salary as of May 2019 for an occupational therapy assistant was $61,510, according to BLS figures.
Most states require occupational therapist assistants to be licensed or registered. Individuals who graduate from an associate's degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) are eligible to take national certifying exams to become Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs). This is often a prerequisite for state licensure, though some states may have separate tests. Becoming a full-fledged occupational therapist requires completion of a bachelor's and master's degree in the field.
There are associate's degrees available to students who wish to become occupational therapy assistants. Licensing is required by most states before program graduates can practice, and individuals may wish to become certified as well.