7 Facts About Occupational Therapy Assistants That You Might Not Know

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If you have questions like “What do occupational therapy assistants do?” then explore the world of OTA work with these seven facts about occupational therapy assistants, including what types of patients OTAs work with and what types of jobs are available, income rates, and more.

OTA posing for camera

Every year, people of all ages overcome injuries, illnesses, and disabilities and regain hope and confidence in their future thanks to the hardworking occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) who dedicate their time and energy to making a difference.

Despite this, occupational therapy may receive different recognition than other healthcare practice areas like physical therapy. To help clear up any confusion about this life-changing profession, we’ll discuss facts about working as an occupational therapy assistant that you might not know. For instance, did you know St. Catherine University was the first school in the United States to offer a dedicated OTA degree program or that you can start a career in occupational therapy much sooner by becoming an OTA?

We will also explore the history of occupational therapy, review many occupational therapy practice settings and applications, and examine the differences between occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants. But first, let’s go over the basics.

What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

What is the role of an OTA, and what are their primary responsibilities? OTAs provide help to patients who need assistance to live their lives comfortably. They are familiar with the patient’s treatment plan to help them throughout the process, and work to improve or maintain functions like mobility, cognitive function, or pain management. This might mean assisting a client with a new skill or exercise until they can do it independently. It might also mean keeping records to share with other occupational therapy staff.

OTAs also have a significant role in maintaining the patient’s quality of life. They often help patients handle their bodily or environmental hygiene, helping them eat or assisting in mobility so they can experience the world as normally as possible.

The Relationship between OTs and OTAs, Explained

Occupational therapists are ultimately responsible for clients’ care. They conduct the initial client evaluation to determine their needs and goals and then develop a treatment plan. For this reason, OTs must hold a master’s degree or higher.

OTA using stretching bands with patient

On the other hand, it is possible to become an occupational therapy assistant with an associate’s degree. The working relationship between OTs and OTAs is a close and collaborative one, with both professions working toward improved client function. OTs may work with the client directly, but will also communicate with an OTA about what is required for the care plan. The OTA will take detailed notes on the client’s progress and challenges while administering the care plan, and regularly reports to the OT. This collaboration can help to keep the care plan on track and responsive to changes in the client’s condition.

The importance of the OTA role in administering patient care should not be understated. In many cases, OTAs must rely on their knowledge of occupational therapy interventions, anatomy and body mechanics, psychology, and psychosocial approaches to care. They work with the OT to modify the patient’s treatment plan and goals as needed. As a result, creativity and adaptability is a must in this field.

7 Occupational Therapy Facts

You’re now familiar with how this role operates within the field, but there are still facts you may not yet know about OTAs. Read on to see more about this impactful occupation.

1. OTAs make a difference in the lives of people of all ages.

The great thing about being an OTA is sharing the joy of helping someone overcome or cope with an injury, illness or disability. You can work with people of all ages as an occupational therapy assistant.

man high-fiving an elderly woman

That’s because occupational therapy is a vast field covering six practice areas:

  1. Children and Youth
  2. Productive Aging
  3. Health and Wellness
  4. Mental Health
  5. Rehabilitation and Disability
  6. Work and Industry

This diversity of practice areas appeals to many people, like Charmaine, a St. Kate’s Online OTA program graduate. “I love working with all types of people of all ages,” says the former teacher, noting, “Because of my background, I’m still leaning toward pediatrics, but what’s nice is that I have the option [to work in a variety of practice areas]. That’s what our professors always let us know. There are so many paths you can take with this degree.”

OT helping patient with holding weights

Discover more paths you can take as an OTA with these 6 occupational therapy specialties.

2. As an OTA, you can work in a variety of settings.

Considering occupational therapy deals with clients at all stages of life, it’s not surprising to find OTs and OTAs in a wide range of occupational therapy settings, including:

  • Assisted-living facilities
  • Community centers
  • Corrections centers
  • Elementary and secondary schools
  • Healthcare practitioners’ offices
  • Home healthcare services
  • Hospitals (general medical, surgical, psychiatric, substance abuse, etc.)
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Retirement communities
  • Skilled nursing facilities
  • Therapists’ offices
  • Workplaces (offices, factories, etc.)

3. There’s a significant demand for occupational therapy services nationwide.

With so many practice areas and occupational therapy settings, you’d be correct to surmise that demand is relatively high for OTAs. Consider the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health:

  • The number of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities is increasing.
  • Almost 9% of Americans have diabetes, and around a third of adults are considered pre-diabetic. Not only that, but the number of young Americans also diagnosed with diabetes is on the rise.
  • In the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. That’s 795,000 people a year who will suffer a stroke, of which about 25% will suffer another.
  • The number of Americans 65 and older is expected to grow significantly. The global percentage of individuals over 65 is now 8.5% and is expected to jump to 17% by 2050.

So, what does all of this have to do with occupational therapy? A lot. In each of these instances, occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants can help. For example, occupational therapy might be employed to help a child on the autism spectrum manage the stress caused by social situations like going to school. In the case of diabetes, occupational therapy can help to identify habits that could be modified for a healthier lifestyle.

man at desk with books

Stroke survivors often suffer the loss of skills or coordination, and occupational therapy can help survivors regain abilities and even minimize the risk of another stroke. For the growing number of senior citizens, occupational therapy can help them maintain independence so they can spend their golden years at home.

Of course, these are just a few examples of ways OTs and OTAs help people — and help illustrate why the demand for occupational therapy services will only grow in the coming years.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of OTAs employed in 2032 will top 60,000, up from 49,000 in 2022 — for an increase of around 23%, making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the U.S.

Of course, before choosing any career, you should research the demand in your area unless you are looking to relocate to a place where demand is more significant. Projections Central, which leverages BLS data on a state-by-state basis, is one potential source for research.

4. You can earn a solid income as an OTA.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, the median salary of an occupational therapy assistant was $64,250 in 2022. The top 25% of OTA earners made (on average) $76,270.

As with any career, though, earning potential is heavily dependent on location, with contributing factors including regional demand and cost of living. California-based OTAs will operate within the state with the highest annual mean wage for their position — a strong motivator.

Income isn’t the only benefit of being an OTA. Learn more about what makes occupational therapy a good career.

OT with geriatric patient

5. You can earn your OTA degree in as few as 16 months.

Becoming an occupational therapist requires earning a master’s degree and years of study. With St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program, it’s possible to graduate ready to sit for certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) licensure in 16 to 24 months, depending on your current educational level.

6. You may be able to study OTA without relocating.

With lab site locations in California, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia, St. Kate’s OTA program provides more choices for where to earn your OTA education. And with three starts a year, you can start sooner, too.

Our many locations also offer flexibility. While you will complete most of your coursework online, two components of our program require in-person learning: skills labs and fieldwork.

Skills labs occur on 6 lab weekends spread throughout the course of the program. Therefore, some past students have elected to travel to their learning sites and Level I Fieldwork sessions rather than relocate.

three OT students posing and smiling in class

When you enroll in St. Kate’s Online OTA program, you’ll be assigned a fieldwork coordinator who will work with you to find Level II Fieldwork opportunities near you, if possible. This way, you’ll get the hands-on experience you need in both a physical disabilities practice setting and an emerging practice setting or area of particular interest. Where you live plays a significant factor in finding opportunities within convenient driving distance.

7. St. Kate’s was the first university to offer an OTA degree program.

Though the certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) role had been around since 1956, it wasn’t until 1964 that the first-degree program was offered — at St. Catherine University. Almost 50 years later, St. Kate’s again made OTA history when it launched the first hybrid Online OTA program, making it possible for more people to receive a quality occupational therapy education.

Ready to Write Your Role in Occupational Therapy History?

If changing lives is what you were called to do, becoming an OTA is a great way to do it. Complete the form to have an admissions counselor contact you to learn how to earn your Associate of Applied Science in OTA from St. Kate’s in as few as 16 months.

outside shot of st. kate campus

The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

Get answers to your questions about the field, about the OTA career path, and about St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.

book with cover title: Occupational Therapy Assistant Explained