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Occupational Therapy Assistant Careers

As the name implies, the role of an occupational therapy assistant acts as an assistant to an Occupational Therapist, which involves a lot of things, usually centered around patients who are recovering or developing skills having to do with everyday life and different occupations.

Of course, the tasks range from administrative tasks, such as answering the telephone, replying to emails, or scheduling appointments, to tasks having to do more with the mental health profession, such as collecting and recording data and a patient's information and medical history, explaining to the patient and their families certain therapeutic plans and activities, the development of these skills, or documenting their progress, changes, and behavior.

A person in this position must continue to learn, either through university education, seminars, staff training, and through other methods. Regardless, they must have already finished a certified program for Occupational Therapy Assistants and have gotten a certification to work as one, a license which may vary from state to state.

Other than that, good communications and organizational skills are a must, as is, of course, the understanding and knowledge of therapeutic strategies and legal regulations.

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Duties

Occupational therapy assistants typically do the following:

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment—for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier
  • Record patients’ progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks

Occupational therapy aides typically do the following:

  • Prepare treatment areas, such as setting up therapy equipment
  • Transport patients
  • Clean treatment areas and equipment
  • Help patients with billing and insurance forms
  • Perform clerical tasks, including scheduling appointments and answering telephones

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan for each patient. Activities described in plans range from teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair to advising patients on the best way to stretch their muscles. For example, an occupational therapy assistant might work with injured workers to help them get back into the workforce by teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Occupational therapy assistants also may work with people who have learning disabilities, teaching them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure that patients are doing them correctly. They record the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the occupational therapist so that the therapist can change the treatment plan if the patient is not getting the desired results.

Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment. They may assist patients with moving to and from treatment areas. After a therapy session, aides clean the treatment area, put away equipment, and gather laundry.

Occupational therapy aides also fill out insurance forms and other paperwork and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and monitoring inventory levels.

How To Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. They also must be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Education and Training

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In 2014, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a branch of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. In addition to taking coursework, occupational therapy assistants must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on work experience.

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health education. They also can increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist’s office, or a physical therapist’s office.

Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. Training can last from several days to a few weeks and covers a number of topics, including the setting up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Previous work experience in healthcare, as well as certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS), may be helpful in getting a job.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must be able to quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. In addition, aides must pay attention to detail when performing clerical tasks, such as helping a patient fill out an insurance form.  

Flexibility. Assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best type of therapy to use for achieving a patient’s goals.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should be able to communicate clearly with patients and with patients’ families to the extent of their training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nearly all states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed or registered. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Some states have additional requirements.

Occupational therapy assistants must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant” (COTA). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specialty certifications for occupational therapy assistants who want to demonstrate their specialized level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in specialized areas of practice such as low vision or feeding, eating and swallowing.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated.

Advancement

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education and becoming occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist “bridge” education programs are designed to qualify occupational therapy assistants to advance and become therapists.

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Average Salary
$47,932
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
31%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
21,234
Job Openings

Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Paths

Top Careers Before Occupational Therapy Assistant

Top Careers After Occupational Therapy Assistant

PRN
6.3 %

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Average Salary for an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational Therapy Assistants in America make an average salary of $47,932 per year or $23 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $62,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $36,000 per year.
Average Salary
$47,932

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Abilene, TX
Salary Range41k - 60k$50k$49,889
Dover, DE
Salary Range40k - 60k$49k$49,438
Wichita, KS
Salary Range39k - 57k$48k$47,780
Chicago, IL
Salary Range39k - 58k$48k$47,778
New York, NY
Salary Range38k - 58k$48k$47,624
Charleston, WV
Salary Range39k - 58k$48k$47,604
$34k
$60k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Occupational Therapy Assistant-Columbine Therapy Services-Fort Collins, Co-Columbin
Occupational Therapy Assistant-Columbine Therapy Services-Fort Collins, Co-Columbin
Columbine Health Systems
Columbine Health Systems
03/18/2021
03/18/2021
$56,34903/18/2021
$56,349
Occupational Therapy Assistant
Occupational Therapy Assistant
State of North Carolina
State of North Carolina
01/26/2021
01/26/2021
$36,67701/26/2021
$36,677
Occupational Therapy Assistant-Rehab Inpatient (UP To S/Week)
Occupational Therapy Assistant-Rehab Inpatient (UP To S/Week)
University of Texas Medical Branch
University of Texas Medical Branch
01/21/2021
01/21/2021
$48,16801/21/2021
$48,168
Occupational Therapy Assistant 1 Days)
Occupational Therapy Assistant 1 Days)
University of Washington
University of Washington
01/20/2021
01/20/2021
$46,82401/20/2021
$46,824
Occupational Therapy Assistant-PRN-Columbine Therapy Services-Fort Collins, Co-Columbine Heal
Occupational Therapy Assistant-PRN-Columbine Therapy Services-Fort Collins, Co-Columbine Heal
Columbine Health Systems
Columbine Health Systems
12/29/2020
12/29/2020
$56,34912/29/2020
$56,349
See More Recent Salaries

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Occupational Therapy Assistant Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write an Occupational Therapy Assistant Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Occupational Therapy Assistant resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Occupational Therapy Assistant Demographics

Gender

female

79.0 %

male

18.0 %

unknown

3.0 %

Ethnicity

White

73.2 %

Black or African American

10.8 %

Hispanic or Latino

9.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

80.3 %

Arabic

3.9 %

French

2.6 %
See More Demographics

Occupational Therapy Assistant Education

Majors

Degrees

Associate

62.5 %

Bachelors

17.6 %

Certificate

12.9 %

Top Colleges for Occupational Therapy Assistants

1. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

2. University of Virginia

Charlottesville, VA • Public

In-State Tuition
$17,653
Enrollment
16,405

3. Emory University

Atlanta, GA • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,306
Enrollment
6,975

4. Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH • Private

In-State Tuition
$49,042
Enrollment
5,131

5. Kettering College

Kettering, OH • Private

In-State Tuition
$12,960
Enrollment
610

6. University of Maryland - College Park

College Park, MD • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,595
Enrollment
30,184

7. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

8. University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,730
Enrollment
18,830

9. Clarkson College

Omaha, NE • Private

In-State Tuition
$13,392
Enrollment
646

10. Maria College of Albany

Albany, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$15,140
Enrollment
876
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For an Occupational Therapy Assistant

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 21.6% of occupational therapy assistants listed rehab on their resume, but soft skills such as detail oriented and physical strength are important as well.

Best States For an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as an occupational therapy assistant. The best states for people in this position are California, Hawaii, Nevada, and New Mexico. Occupational therapy assistants make the most in California with an average salary of $55,820. Whereas in Hawaii and Nevada, they would average $51,243 and $50,869, respectively. While occupational therapy assistants would only make an average of $49,663 in New Mexico, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. New Mexico

Total Occupational Therapy Assistant Jobs:
200
Highest 10% Earn:
$71,000
Location Quotient:
1.38
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. West Virginia

Total Occupational Therapy Assistant Jobs:
180
Highest 10% Earn:
$69,000
Location Quotient:
1.59
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Texas

Total Occupational Therapy Assistant Jobs:
1,747
Highest 10% Earn:
$71,000
Location Quotient:
1.16
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Occupational Therapy Assistant Employers

1. United States Army
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$46,198
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
33+
2. Genesis HealthCare
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$46,475
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
25+
3. Encore Rehabilitation Services
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$46,397
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
23+
4. HCR ManorCare
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$38,258
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
22+
5. Life Care Centers of America
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$40,148
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
21+
6. Heritage Healthcare
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$46,396
Occupational Therapy Assistants Hired: 
19+

Occupational Therapy Assistant Videos

Updated October 2, 2020