Constantly in-demand, the job of an occupational therapy assistant is not only financially secure, it is personally rewarding. By helping people re-learn basic skills for everyday life, the occupational therapy assistant makes incredibly positive impacts on the lives of people who need some extra help. The career outlook for occupational therapy assistants is promising, with demand increasing each year.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Individuals need occupational therapy for a myriad of reasons, whether it’s because of an accident or physical trauma, a disability, surgical recovery or illness, the goal is the same. To help the patient navigate daily living while they recover, or to learn new skills to facilitate daily living after a permanent disability.

Occupational therapy differs from physical therapy in that the latter is more focused on gross motor skills. While physical therapy is focused on the entire body to help it move around better, occupational therapy is more focused on what you need to do to get through the day. The word “occupation” is no accident here – in the most basic explanation of occupational therapy – what is it that you need to do for your occupation? Whether you operate a forklift, or write on a whiteboard, the occupational therapy assistant or occupational therapist is there to help you regain skills that you need for your “occupation.”

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

If you’ve ever been through an occupational therapy treatment program, chances are you worked directly with an occupational therapy assistant. OTAs work directly with clients who have been prescribed occupational therapy via their physician. Under the direction and supervision of an occupational therapist (OT), the occupational therapy assistant helps their patient develop self-care activities within their physical limitations, as well as improve overall daily living abilities.

The occupational therapy assistant, in most facilities, is the individual who is directly working with the patient, making sure that they are completing their exercises and activities in a way that will improve overall function and ability. They offer encouragement and coaching, and records the patient’s progress to various medical professionals, including the OT and physician.

In most states, the occupational therapy assistant does not put together treatment plans, but rather ensures the implementation of the therapy plan that is created by the OT. Additionally, typically the occupational therapy assistant is responsible for maintaining clean and safe therapy conditions, including inventories of supplies and equipment maintenance and overall cleanliness of the therapy room(s).

Education Requirements and Expected Salary

Most occupational therapy assistant programs are offered through vocational or community colleges. Your program should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). The coursework, including clinical practice, usually requires two-years (if attending full-time). In addition to your academic studies, most states require the successful passage of an exam. The occupational therapy assistant should also be trained and certified in basic first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Salaries vary greatly by state, and by area, but the average median salary nationwide is ~$30,000.