Is Occupational Therapy a Good Career?

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Summary: OT is a good career because it offers a flexible schedule, comfortable salary and the ability to choose where you work. While it’s true you may have to deal with setbacks and manage tough situations, you’ll also get to help people and make a difference. If you’re looking for a rewarding job in healthcare, becoming an occupational therapy assistant is a great career choice.

OTA with child on exercise ball

Occupational therapy is a good career choice for anyone who wants to get into the healthcare field and work directly with patients to make their lives easier. A unique healthcare career that empowers you to change lives and make meaningful connections, working as an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) will allow you to improve patients’ overall quality of life.

OTAs get to know their patients closely, sometimes even working in their homes, and treat them on an individual basis according to what is most important to them.

If you’re looking for a career in the health field that is generally low stress, can offer high job satisfaction and is fulfilling, then a career as an occupational therapy assistant might be right for you.

To help you determine if OT is the right career path for you, we’ll first explore all the reasons why OT is a good career and then explain the personality types best suited for working in OT. We’ll then get into the various aspects of the profession and why St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program is a great option to help you enter this rewarding field.

OTA in group setting

5 Reasons OT is a Good Career

First things first: Why is OT such a good career? OTA is consistently listed as one of the best healthcare jobs, and for a good reason. Generally speaking, there is a high growth, low stress and a great work-life balance in the field. U.S. News and World Report found that a career as an OTA has above average upward mobility, such as more opportunities for advancements and salary increases.

1. OTs Can Choose Their Work Setting

OTs can work in various settings: pediatric outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, adult outpatient clinics, school systems or rehab facilities, to name a few. You have the ability as an occupational therapist to completely change your career at the drop of a hat by changing settings.

The variety doesn’t stop there. OTAs can do their jobs from myriad other settings, including:

  • Homes
  • Therapists’ offices
  • Workplaces

2. OTs Enjoy a Comfortable Salary

OT is also a career with a steady paycheck where you can live comfortably. Occupational Therapy Assistants made a median salary of $60,220 in 2018. The best-paid 25 percent made $71,820 that year, while the lowest-paid 25 percent made $50,510. Your salary may vary depending on what state you work in, but all in all, a career as an OTA offers financial stability.

3. You Won’t Get Bored as an OT

A career as an OTA means you get to choose which practice area is the best fit for you, and you can always switch it up, too!

Certified occupational therapy assistants can work within these occupational therapy practice areas:

  • Children and Youth. OTAs work with children at risk for developing disabilities, improving their motor skills, cognitive skills and sensory processing to minimize the potential of developmental delays.
  • Productive Aging. OTAs help dementia patients through behavioral interventions (aka treatment plans), addressing personality changes that are concerning their families and caregivers.
  • Health and Wellness. OTAs help people with arthritis, teaching them how to manage inflammation or identifying orthotic devices that help them control pain, which improves their self-esteem.
  • Mental Health. OTAs teach individuals with Down syndrome how to gain their independence through self-care activities such as eating, dressing, and playing.
  • Rehabilitation and Disability. OTAs help people overcome physical challenges, recommending mobility changes to everyday equipment such as adding foot straps to bicycle pedals.
  • Work and Industry. OTAs help employees with work-related lower back injuries through supervised therapeutic exercises, work reconditioning and on-site interventions.

4. OTs Have the Ability to Get Creative

As an OTA, you’ll be continuously challenged to tailor treatments to your patients. This means thinking out of the box and getting creative with readily available materials. Sometimes this means repurposing household items or using everyday objects as tools.

In this video, you can see how a typical OTA telehealth video session might run and how one OTA used paper to fill her patient’s need in a fun way.

Another OTA took creativity to the next level with this simple strategy she created and often uses with children with difficulty writing numbers.

If you’re a creative thinker who loves problem-solving, then a career as an OTA is for you.

5. OT Has a Positive Job Outlook

Occupational therapy is one of the top healthcare fields in the United States today, and the OTA profession is in high demand.

This trend doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon, either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates that employment for the profession will grow by 32% between 2019 and 2029.

With so many different practice areas and occupational therapy settings, the demand for well-rounded OTAs will continue to grow.

Current U.S. trends reflect that issues that require occupational therapy as treatment continue to climb. Because of the following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, the demand for OTAs keeps getting higher with the following groups of people:

  • The number of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities is increasing: From 2009 to 2011, 16.2% of children were diagnosed with a developmental disability (including 8.5% with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and 1.1% with autism spectrum disorder). From 2015 to 2017, 17.8% of children were diagnosed with a developmental disability (9.5% with ADHD and 2.5% with autism).
  • The percentage of people with diabetes is alarming to say the least. About 10% of Americans have diabetes, and around a third of adults are considered pre-diabetic. Not only that, the number of young Americans 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 through 2060. Additionally, the average life expectancy is expected to increase from 79.1 in 2017 to 85.6 in 2060, when it’s anticipated there will be around 95 million Americans older than 65 (compared to less than 50 million in 2016).
  • America is facing a growing obesity epidemic. As of 2018, 42.4% of adults and 18.5% of children in the U.S. were considered obese, and the numbers aren’t getting any better. In fact, the prevalence of obesity is increasing. This presents considerable challenges for public health, such as increased disease risk.
woman placing red tape on stair steps in woman's home

Who Do Occupational Therapists Work With?

All of the above issues factor into what an OTA can help with. An OTA could be instrumental in helping a child on the autism spectrum deal with the stress caused by social situations, like going to school. In diabetes and obesity cases, occupational therapy can help identify habits that could be modified for a healthier lifestyle.

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.

And for the growing number of senior citizens, occupational therapy can help them maintain independence and live happily at home longer.

Personality Traits Suited to Becoming an OTA

Becoming an OTA can have a ton of amazing benefits, but it’s important to really understand the field and make sure it’s the right fit for you.

If you have the following personality traits, a career as an OTA could be perfect for you!

To further understand what being an OTA entails, consider the following points on the good, the bad and the ugly of working in occupational therapy.

While becoming an OTA can offer a versatile, flexible, and engaging environment where you can make a difference in people’s lives, it can also have challenging moments.

The Good: Occupational Therapy Assistants Experience Job Satisfaction

If helping people is your passion, OT is the right career path for you.

Most occupational therapists have an immense amount of job satisfaction almost every day-- almost every day because you will have the occasional bad or overwhelming day. In general, you can expect to leave work knowing you have made a significant difference in someone’s life because often clients are emotional about their progress. As an occupational therapist, you have the opportunity to help people get their lives back when they cannot do it on their own.

The Bad: Working with People Can Be Difficult as an OTA

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and with a variety of impairments. Even though a career as an OTA can be very rewarding, the fact is that you’re human and your patients are human and that means sometimes things don’t go perfectly. Here is how one OTA explains it:

“Sometimes you’ll be unable to help people, no matter how successful their surgery was, no matter how diligent the patient is with their exercises, no matter how frequently you see the patient each week. It is heartbreaking when you, your patient or the patient’s family put in so much effort into therapy and you reach an obstacle you can’t overcome.

This could be irreparable nerve damage, excess scar tissue formation, lack of bone healing or a pre-existing cardiac condition making them a poor surgical candidate. People will often feel sad, confused or discouraged.”

Being an OTA means being able to accept these kinds of situations and be as positive as you can to help despite these setbacks. The way you handle these hard days could change someone’s life or inspire them to find the will to keep going.

The Ugly: What Occupational Therapists Do in Tough Situations

No job is just butterflies and rainbows, and OTAs are no exception to that. Any job in the medical field is likely to have some not-so-exciting aspects to it, so it’s important to be prepared and understand how these less pleasant tasks factor into the bigger picture in OT. As one OTA puts it:

“There are some ugly and messy parts of occupational therapy. We often have to deal with bodily fluids and functions. As OTs working in inpatient settings, we often teach people how to perform toileting again. This is not very glamorous at times. People often have trouble with wiping themselves and you will need to assist them. It can be a dirty job.

After surgery, people are frequently nauseous. I’ve had to hold buckets or trash cans for patients to vomit in. When patients don’t feel well, they can be grumpy or in bad moods. You absolutely shouldn’t take it personally. Put yourself in their shoes and take their comments or denial to participate in therapy with a grain of salt fully.

In my current job as an outpatient therapist, I deal with a lot of wound care. This includes wound packing, cleaning discharge from infected wounds, removing dying tissue (that sometimes doesn’t smell the best) and dealing with blood. I find wound care interesting and a welcomed challenge, but this is in an ’ugly’ aspect of OT for many.

If you’re looking to become an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant, it’s important to know and anticipate these ‘ugly’ types of situations, as you’ll leave at the end of the day knowing you’ve made a difference.”

Now that you understand the different aspects of OT and what can make it challenging, the silver lining is that it is often a rewarding and fulfilling career with major benefits. Read on for more reasons why OT is a good career and what a career in OT entails.

What A Career as an OTA Looks Like

While the OT evaluates and develops treatment plans for clients and patients, the OTA puts those plans into action, teaching patients how to overcome the challenges of performing daily activities because of an injury, illness or disability.

As the name implies, occupational therapists are ultimately responsible for the care clients receive. They conduct the initial client meeting to determine his or her needs and goals, and then develop a treatment plan. For this reason, OTs must hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree, though it’s likely the role will eventually require a doctorate degree.

Depending on the size of the practice, the OT may work with the client directly to implement the treatment plan, or he or she may hand the treatment plan off to an OTA to carry out.

The OTA is usually responsible for taking notes on the client’s progress, any challenges faced and reporting those to the OT.

Because OTAs don’t operate with the same autonomy level as OTs, it’s possible to become an occupational therapy assistant with an associate’s degree.

However, this shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that OTAs are simply order-takers. In many cases, OTAs must rely on their knowledge of occupational therapy interventions, anatomy and body mechanics, psychology, and psychosocial approaches to care to modify treatment plans as needed and provide the physical and emotional support needed to be successful. As a result, creativity is a must.

OTA students brainstorming alternative activity challenges on a piece of paper

How to Become an OTA

While having college experience is helpful, it’s not required to be eligible for St. Kate’s 16-month Online OTA Program. We accept students of varying education levels, from high school graduates to master’s degree holders. If you have the drive to help people and a creative mind, we want to talk to you!

Students interested in entering the St. Kate’s OTA program typically come as Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS) occupational therapy assistant students one or two semesters before beginning the OTA sequence of courses. LAS occupational therapy assistant students take prerequisite requirements and complete most of their liberal arts and science core requirements before beginning OTA program courses.

Admission to St. Kate’s Online OTA Program

An admissions counselor will help you develop an enrollment plan that works toward one of the three start dates offered and work with you to create an academic plan.

While we offer an OTA program that starts in January, May and September, our university accepts and responds to applications on a rotating basis.

This means you get to enjoy the following benefits:

  • A longer than usual application period
  • A quick acceptance decision
  • Less competition if you apply early

Just remember, the longer you delay your application, the more difficult it becomes to get into the program for your preferred start date.

student in classroom talking on phone

Admissions Requirements

While you don’t need college experience to apply to the program, we do have a few minimum requirements you’ll need to meet for admission. They include:

  • A high school diploma or passing GED® exam score
  • A minimum cumulative high school GPA of 2.5, or
  • College credits with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5, if applicable

Occupational Therapy Assistant Prerequisite Courses

In addition, we also require the successful completion of four prerequisite courses for admission into St. Kate’s Online OTA program.

You can take these prerequisite courses online through our university, which will come in handy later when you begin to use the online platform in our program. The prerequisites will simultaneously help you familiarize yourself with our modules while preparing you for the program. You can complete the courses independently of or in conjunction with the OTA program’s liberal arts and science courses.

Skills Lab Partner

Part of the program will include skills labs where you’ll get hands-on experience in a controlled environment. You’ll complete your 8 scheduled skills labs in an advanced rehabilitation setting that features all the standard tools of the OT trade.

Our skills labs have a student-to-instructor ratio of 12 to 1 to ensure you receive personalized instruction and immediate feedback in a close-knit clinical education setting.

Building off your skills lab experiences and fieldwork plays a critical role in your OTA education, helping you transition from student to practitioner.

During the program, you’ll complete 720 hours of supervised fieldwork in diverse areas of occupational therapy. Divided into two levels, Fieldwork I and Fieldwork II, the experiences give you direct access to clients of all ages and situations in real-world rehabilitation settings.

You’ll go through these major steps with a cohort of peers who share your passion and drive to help others. These will be people you can count on for support and may turn into long-lasting connections, as Reina found during her time in the program: “I have met some of the best friends of my life within my cohort. Great people.”

Ready to Explore Your Future in Occupational Therapy?

If changing lives is what you were called to do, occupational therapy could be a good career path for you. Call today, or fill out the form to have an admissions counselor contact you, to find out how you can 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