Fieldwork is one of the most important components of becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), providing critical hands-on experience in real-world settings. It’s also required to graduate as an OTA.
That’s because in order for an OTA program to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), students must complete the fieldwork requirements laid out by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
Here, we’ll discuss the differences between Level I and Level II Fieldwork, and explain how we work with students to find the right OTA fieldwork sites in their areas.
Two Levels of Fieldwork
As part of St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program, you’ll gain real-world experience via two levels of fieldwork, totaling 720 hours.
“It’s one thing to learn about things online and it’s one thing to read and to do tests,” says Kelly, a current student in St. Kate’s Online OTA program. “But then to actually have a patient in front of you and to interact with them, and to be able to do the treatments that you’ve been learning about…”
Of course, fieldwork doesn’t just give you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned. It also introduces you to potential employers and helps you to develop and refine your interpersonal skills.
“You really have to think about how you communicate and how you give instruction,” Kelly says, stressing the importance of being concise and to-the-point to avoid patient confusion.
Level I Fieldwork: Observing in Small Groups
During your Level I Fieldwork, you will be introduced to the fieldwork experience through two intensive three-day sessions. Unlike with many OTA programs, our Level I Fieldwork sessions are held in small groups of just 3–6 students and are overseen by certified OT or OTA instructors.
“Fieldwork I is more observing,” says Tiffany, a current student in the program. “You’re getting the feel for the environment, but it’s not as hands-on.”
The first of these sessions will focus on psychosocial conditions, while the second will introduce you to various OT practice areas and populations. At this point, you’ll be mostly observing your certified instructor, though you may get limited hands-on experience.
Totaling about 80 hours, Level I Fieldwork occurs during the second half of the second semester, near your lab site in either California, Virginia or Texas, depending on which you chose. However, that doesn’t mean you have to live in one of these states to enroll in our Online OTA program. Because our program is 80% online, some students opt to travel to the Level I OTA fieldwork sites and 8 skills labs rather than relocate. For this reason, our Online OTA program is perfect for individuals who want to become an occupational therapy assistant but do not live near an OTA school.
Level II Fieldwork: Supervised Firsthand Experience
Level II Fieldwork is where you’ll really dig in and experience the OTA profession firsthand under the supervision of a certified instructor. As Becky Anderson, Didactic Adjunct Faculty Coordinator for St. Kate’s Online OTA program, puts it, Level II Fieldwork is “where you make that connection between what the curriculum teaches you and how you treat your patients.”
Beginning during the fourth semester, after you have finished all of your coursework and labs, Fieldwork II consists of two full-time, 8-week rotations.
One of these rotations will take place in a physical disabilities practice setting. This might include an acute care or rehabilitation hospital, skilled nursing facility, or in-home or outpatient setting. The second will focus on an emerging practice setting or area of special interest. Depending on the practice area you are most interested in, this might include working with children with autism in a pediatric health setting or with dementia patients in a skilled nursing center specializing in memory care.
To accommodate our learners across the country, St. Kate’s takes care of lining up fieldwork for you, and at a location that is convenient for you. Our dedicated academic fieldwork coordinator will work with you to find an OTA fieldwork site that best fits your needs — in all 50 states.
“Students who traditionally haven’t had the ability to join an OTA program are given this chance,” says Becky. “Every student has been able to have this great, unique opportunity to go into areas they were really interested and passionate about.”
How We Determine Your OTA Fieldwork Sites
We want to make sure your Level II Fieldwork experience not only fulfills the AOTA fieldwork requirements, but also helps you grow and develop your professional network. That’s why we start working with you to determine the right OTA fieldwork sites six months to a year in advance of the start of your fieldwork placement.
As the first step, you will receive a fieldwork planning sheet. There you’ll provide your current address, list nearby cities that are within comfortable driving distance and note any occupational therapy sites that you know of in the area. We’ll also ask you about the practice areas you are most interested in (for example, pediatric, skilled nursing, rehab, etc.).
Using the information you provide, your academic fieldwork coordinator will set out to find OTA fieldwork sites that are a smart fit for you. In many cases, we’re able to leverage the many relationships we’ve developed with OT providers across the country, though this won’t prevent us from reaching out and building new partnerships based on your interests.
Of course, we can’t promise every site you have in mind will be interested, as an OT or OTA there will need to be willing to supervise you for at least eight hours each week. However, with clinical affiliation agreements with more than 500 occupational therapy providers, we can guarantee you will be placed, and in most cases within an hour and a half of where you live — something not every OTA program can say. In many cases, we will even provide you a list of possible OTA fieldwork sites so you can rank them by personal preference.
In this process, you should expect to hear about your Level II Fieldwork assignment at least eight weeks prior to their start.
Become an OTA in as Few as 16 Months
With the Online OTA program from St. Kate’s, you can graduate in as few as 16 months ready to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam — the final step toward becoming a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA). Thanks to our 80% online format, our program makes it possible to become an OTA without having to relocate. Plus, unlike many schools, there’s no waiting list to get in, which means you can start working toward your new career sooner. To learn more about how St. Catherine University can help you become an OTA, give us a call at 877.223.2677 or fill out the form to have one of our admissions counselors contact you.