Despite high demand and job growth well above the national average, occupational therapy (OT) remains one of the healthcare industry’s best-kept secrets. For the countless people young and old whose lives have been improved by occupational therapy, though, OT is a blessing — making it an incredibly rewarding field to work in.
Considering the critical role occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) play in helping people live better lives, the flexibility, and variety of opportunities available, high demand, and good pay, it’s easy to see how the OTA role could be the best medical career you don’t know about.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
If you have been searching for medical careers in demand, you’ve likely come across occupational therapy, though you may not know much about it. It’s no secret that there are a lot of misconceptions about OT, in part because it’s such a broad field and also because some people interpret “occupation” as meaning occupational therapy relates solely to working.
It’s true that occupational therapy can help you get back to work following an injury or illness, or help you overcome a disability so that you may enter the workforce. However, an occupation can mean many things depending on one’s age and stage of life.
For a child struggling with hand-muscle coordination, occupational therapy can mean mastering writing with a pen or pencil. Or for a child on the autism spectrum, OT can mean identifying ways to overcome social anxieties or sensory challenges. But for an elderly couple, the aim of occupational therapy might be to help them with home modifications that make it safe for them to age in place so they can avoid moving into a retirement home for as long as possible. And yes, for a working-age adult with a wrist or back injury, OT could involve exercises to improve mobility, identifying appropriate ergonomic office furniture and even troubleshooting posture-related issues. However, while the examples listed here are common, OT involves so much more.
To learn more about the variety of practice areas and settings, read our blog post about why a career in OT means you’ll never get bored.
What Does an OTA Do?
For the most part, occupational therapy consists of two primary roles: occupational therapists (also referred to as OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs). It is worth noting, however, that some large practices also employ occupational therapy aides, who assist OTAs and OTs, though they make up only a small subset of the total number of occupational therapy practitioners.
Occupational therapists must hold a master’s degree (at a minimum) and are responsible for evaluating the wants, needs, and goals of the patient (typically referred to as a “client”) and then formulating a treatment plan. Depending on the size of the practice, the number of patients, etc., either the OT will carry out the treatment plan him or herself, or an OTA will. That is not all an OTA does, though. OTAs are also responsible for assessing the client’s progress and keeping the OT updated on this.
This is not to say that OTAs merely carry out an OT’s orders; occupational therapy assistants use their creativity and knowledge of the body, psychology and rehabilitation practices to put the prescribed treatment plan into action. OTAs also spend a fair amount of time educating clients (and their family members) on ways to overcome the challenges they face — whether physical, mental or emotional.
For more information on what an OTA does, read our article on What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do at Work?
Why OTA Could Be the Best Medical Career You Don’t Know About
Being an OTA makes for deeply rewarding, life-affirming work; however, helping people live better lives and getting to see the fruits of your labor aren’t the only reasons to consider this medical career in demand. Here are five reasons to consider a career as an occupational therapy assistant.
1. You Can Work with a Variety of Patients and Conditions
Some people are fine doing the same thing day in and day out; others want variety in their career. As an OTA, you may choose to specialize in a specific practice area, or you may wish to find work in a setting that allows you to see a variety of patients. Not to mention, OTAs can find work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, community centers, outpatient rehabilitation centers, schools, and workplaces, as well as making home visits.
2. OTAs Enjoy Flexibility and Work-Life Balance
Another benefit of being an OTA is that while many work full time, it is possible to find part-time work. Additionally, because most OTAs are not “on-call,” they typically work on a set schedule, avoiding long, unpredictable hours at work.
3. You Can Make Good Money
Choosing a job based solely on potential earnings probably won’t lead you down the path to fulfillment; however, it is nice to know your efforts will be rewarded. The good news is that OTAs can earn a healthy living. In fact, OTA frequently tops the lists of best-paying jobs requiring an associate degree. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), OTAs earn a mean annual wage of $63,420, as of May 2020. Of course, that’s just an average, and OTAs in states like California, Texas, and Virginia can earn considerably more.
4. The Demand for OTAs Is Growing
From rising Alzheimer’s, obesity and chronic disease rates to improved methods of diagnosing autism (resulting in more diagnoses) and an aging population — according to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of U.S. adults older than 65 is expected to nearly double between 2018 and 2060 — occupational therapy practitioners will have their work cut out for them. In fact, the BLS projects that the number of occupational therapy assistants will grow 29 percent between 2016 and 2026 — that’s more than four times the overall projected U.S. job growth rate.
5. You Can Become an OTA in as Few as 16–24 Months
Perhaps one of the greatest things about becoming an OTA is that it doesn’t require you to spend four years in school to earn a healthy living. With St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program, you can graduate ready to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam in as few as 16–24 months through a convenient combination of online coursework, once-monthly labs, and fieldwork experiences.
Are You Destined to Make a Difference?
If helping people of all ages live life to the fullest is your life’s calling, contact St. Kate’s today. You will be connected with a dedicated advisor who will help you determine if our Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program is right for you and guide you through the application process.