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Occupational Therapy Assistant

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Career Overview

Were you able to get out of bed this morning? Did you walk to the bathroom with ease? Unfortunately, simple tasks like these are not easy for everyone. Luckily, there are occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) to rehabilitate people who are injured, ill, or disabled. If you have great compassion and an interest in helping people to better their lives, this could be the profession for you.Working as an occupational therapy assistant, you will work with people of various ages with a range of disabilities. For example, patients with permanent disabilities, such as Parkinson's disease, often need assistance performing daily tasks such as walking to the kitchen or eating. As an OTA, you will show them how to use adaptive equipment such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. Important tools like these make daily functions manageable for your patients, but they might not be too thrilled about them. If you work with children who have development disabilities, they could feel unsure of the activities you work with them on. But once you encourage them with positive feedback, they'll feel more confident about how the exercises you lead them through will help them with their coordination and socialization.While the occupations are very similar, the main difference between an occupational therapist and an occupational therapy assistant is the education and authority they have. For instance, an occupational therapist must complete a four-year master's degree; an occupational therapy assistant must finish a two-year associate's degree. When it comes to work, an occupational therapist evaluates and sets goals for patients, then an occupational therapy assistant uses the information collected from the evaluation and goals to complete the treatment plan. Furthermore, a certified occupational therapy assistant may have a greater caseload than an occupational therapist, due to the extra paperwork required of an occupational therapist.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$59,310
41,650
28.9 %
Virginia
$66,520
950
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Associate's Degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant

If you decide to become an occupational therapy assistant, you will need to complete an associate's degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include classroom instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. You must also complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork as part of your education to gain hands-on work experience.Once you have completed your degree and fieldwork requirements, most states require you to be licensed in order to begin working. You will need to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam, and once you have you can officially call yourself a "Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant" (COTA). To maintain your certification, you must take continuing education classes.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Communication Skills
Detail Oriented

Work Environment

As an occupational therapy assistant, you will work full time at a hospital, rehabilitation center, school, small medical office, or clients' homes. Many assistants work at multiple locations. Your hours will vary, depending on where you decide to work. To accommodate patients' schedules, you may need to work nights or weekends.This job will require you to spend many hours on your feet while working with patients. Many assistants choose to wear running shoes to keep their feet comfortable during long shifts. During your time with a patient, you may also need to lift and move them. Make sure you're extra careful when you pick up a patient, so that you do not injure yourself or them.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013