Despite a poor economy, one main segment of the employment landscape has continued to grow in recent years, and is projected to keep growing, that being the medical and healthcare industry.
Increasing at a faster rate than most other industries, this has provided many new job opportunities in one of the more important employment sectors.
With a projected growth of 43% between 2010 and 2020 – while job growth in general is only estimated at 14% – this has already begun to give many people the motivation needed to enroll in the necessary occupational therapy assistant programs to get their education in this field, and gain employment that can be both financially and personally rewarding.
Occupational therapy is an important job in the landscape of today’s medical care, especially with the growing numbers of elderly and the aging baby-boomer population in light of longer life expectancies.
Somewhat different than physical therapy – which focuses on getting people well after illness, injury or surgery – occupational therapy focuses more on helping impaired individuals regain and keep their functionality for everyday life.
Patients with chronic arthritis, those dealing with impairment after stroke and even those suffering from mental conditions are patients of occupational therapists and their assistants, who strive to make everyday a better day for every person.
The greatest percentage of jobs are at practices that deal with physical and occupational therapy, audiology and speech therapy, but there are many positions in nursing care facilities, schools, private corporations, regular hospitals and home care agencies as well.
Patients can vary from the aging and elderly to children and adults with developmental disabilities and even patients with mental and emotional disabilities or conditions, providing a very vast array of professional options for the OTA wishing to advance their career through specialization, or enjoying a particular type of patient or work environment.
The basic job description includes conferring with a licensed occupational therapist about the course of patient care, and then assisting patients in achieving that treatment plan.
This can include anything from teaching patients newer, more efficient ways to do things with respect to their limitations to helping them get in the practice necessary to relearn tasks that they may have lost functionality for.
Teaching strengthening and stretching exercises, energy conservation, how to use special equipment and devices such as wheelchairs and eating utensils, and even helping someone re-learn how to tie their shoes are part of a normal work day for an occupational therapy assistant, too.
Additionally, as with any other medical job, you will also be responsible for keeping accurate records on their patients and relaying continued results back to the therapist in charge of the case.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
Those working as OTA can earn a very respectable, competitive salary. With a median pay of about $55,000 annually, occupational therapy assistant salary can be as high as $70,000 per year depending on the practice, the location, and the amount of experience.
Higher pay scales seem to be related with home healthcare agencies and nursing care facilities while the lower end rates are found in school and private employment jobs. Medical offices that employ physical and occupational therapy professionals, audiologists and speech therapists appear mid-range for annual salaries. Naturally, those who specialize or continue their education can also qualify for higher salaries as well.
Schools and Programs
Currently, most programs are Associate’s degree educational programs and involve a minimum of 2 years of education and clinical experience training. These are usually offered by occupational therapy assistant schools, or colleges that have good OTA programs.
Training is intensive and can be demanding. Due to the hands-on nature of the profession it is not usually possible to attend occupational therapy assistant schools online, which is something that candidates should take into account.
At the most, they may be able to find programs that offer a few general study classes that can be taken online, but there are no occupational therapy assistant online programs, which are accredited by the ACOTE.
Associate’s Degree Programs
Prospective students should be wary of programs that are not accredited, or are considerably shorter in duration than the usual 2-year, Associate’s degree programs however.
Attending the wrong occupational therapy assistant program can leave a student in a position where they are unable to be employed without further education and qualifications. This can increase the length of time and the cost for a student to become certified, licensed and then employed, substantially.
It is also recommended that students cautiously attend any occupational therapy assistant colleges that are either on probationary accreditation or have recently had accreditation removed as, according to the accreditation guidelines by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
Programs that lose or do not obtain accreditation are closed, even if there are students currently attending; students are then forced to transfer into another program in order to assure they are offered the best education possible.
Getting the right education in order to become an occupational therapy assistant is essential, especially considering there is likely to be competition for securing the best positions.
In order to work as an OTA, individuals should complete an educational and occupational therapy assistant training course that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Upon graduating, they are then eligible to sit for the national examination to get their occupational therapy assistant certification, awarding them with the title of Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).
Only then will they be able to become licensed for employment in their state, which involves passing a state board issued exam.
Certification and State License
Once having obtained the necessary schooling, their certification and a state license to practice, there’s a variety of settings that will provide challenging, yet meaningful work.
Whether going into general therapy and dealing with many different types of patients, or specializing in areas such as pediatrics, mental illness or working with the disabled, OTAs provide a very necessary and valuable service to everyone they come in contact with.