Is Occupational Therapy a Good Career?

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Wondering “Is occupational therapy a good career?” It offers a flexible schedule, a competitive salary, and the ability to choose where you work. While you may have to deal with setbacks and manage tough situations, you’ll also get to help people and make a difference.

OT with geriatric patient

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 individually according to what is most important to them.

So, is occupational therapy a good career? If you’re looking for a stable career in the health field that 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 explore why OT is a good career. 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.

First things first: Why is OTA a good career? It is consistently listed as one of the best healthcare jobs for a good reason. The field has a high growth rate, relatively low stress and an outstanding work-life balance. U.S. News and World Report ranks occupational therapy assistant as the #1 best healthcare support job with ample room for job growth, low stress rates, a competitive salary, and excellent work-life balance.

1. OTAs Can Choose Their Work Setting

Some people are fine doing the same thing day in and day out; others want variety in their careers. As an OTA working in occupational therapy, 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 various patients. OTAs can work in multiple locations: pediatric outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, adult outpatient clinics, school systems or rehab facilities, to name a few. As an occupational therapist, you can change your career by changing settings.

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.

2. OTs Enjoy a Comfortable Salary

If you are going back to school, you may be asking, “Is OTA worth it?” OTA is also a career with a steady paycheck where you can live comfortably. Occupational Therapy Assistants earn a mean annual wage of $63,450 as of 2022. Of course, that’s just an average, and OTAs in states like California, Texas, and Virginia can earn considerably more. Your salary may vary depending on what state you work in, but all in all, a career as an OTA offers financial stability.

OTA with patient in kitchen

Here’s more about how to become an OTA with the help of St. Catherine University.

3. You Won’t Get Bored as an OT

A career as an OTA means you can 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 for developmental delays.
  • Productive Aging. OTAs help dementia patients through behavioral interventions (aka treatment plans), addressing personality changes that may concern their families and caregivers.
  • Health and Wellness. OTAs help people with arthritis, teaching them how to manage inflammation or identifying orthotic devices that allow them to 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, reconditioning, and on-site interventions.

4. OTs Have the Ability to Get Creative

Occupational therapists may be the ones who develop patient treatment plans, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be simply carrying out the OT’s orders. Every patient is different. Adapting to each patient’s ever-changing needs requires a degree of creativity.

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 can mean repurposing household items or using everyday objects as tools.

For example, you might devise a game to engage a child in therapy or find a novel way of adapting a common household item for a patient with poor grip strength. The sky is the limit when it comes to the work of OTAs.

5. OT Has a Positive Job Outlook

woman wearing scrubs greeting two elderly patients

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 23% between 2022 and 2032.

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

Current U.S. trends reflect 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 proportion of the general population with diabetes is alarming. About 10% 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 through 2060. Additionally, the average life expectancy is likely 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. The prevalence of obesity is increasing. This presents considerable challenges for public health, such as increased disease risk.

Who Do Occupational Therapists Work With?

All 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.

OTA using stretching bands with patient

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

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, OTA may be your career path.

Most occupational therapy assistants have an overall high level of job satisfaction, even with the an 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 therapy assistant you can help people regain their lives when they cannot do it alone.

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

Occupational therapy practitioners work with people of all ages and with various impairments. Even though a career as an OTA can be gratifying, the fact is that you and your patients are human and sometimes things don’t go perfectly.

Sometimes you can’t help people. The surgery could go perfectly, the patient could do their exercises, and you could see the patient frequently throughout the week. The families make significant investments with time and money for treatment to be unsuccessful. This can be very discouraging for OTAs who are invested in the well-being of patients.

This can happen for many reasons, including irreparable damage, issues with bone healing, heart issues, and more. This may also be discouraging for the patients as well.

three OT students standing in a classroom

Being an OTA means accepting these situations and being as positive as possible 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

Every job comes with challenges, and OTAs are no exception. Any job in the medical field is likely to have some not-so-exciting aspects to it, so it’s essential to be prepared and understand how these less pleasant tasks factor into the bigger picture in OT.

Being an healthcare provider can be complicated. Occupational therapy deals with many different bodily functions. Some patients are learning to use the toilet again and need help. Sometimes, patients become nauseous, and the OTA helps them vomit and clean up afterward. Patients who are in pain are often in bad moods. They can take their frustration out on the people trying to help them. Some OTAs even work in wound care and deal with bodily fluids, infection, and dying tissue.

Occupational therapy is not always a pretty experience, but it is necessary and can help restore dignity to the patients. Knowing these things can help you be prepared and remember your “why” when things get difficult or uncomfortable.

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 significant benefits. Read on for more reasons why OT is a good field and what a career in OTA 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 clients’ care. They conduct the initial client meeting to determine their needs and goals and then develop a treatment plan. For this reason, OTs must hold a master’s degree, though it’s likely the role will eventually require a doctorate-level degree.

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

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

man high-fiving an elderly woman

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 and have a rewarding career.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

student in classroom talking on phone

You can take these prerequisite courses online through our university, which will be helpful later when you use our program’s online platform. The prerequisites will simultaneously help you familiarize yourself with our modules while preparing you for the program. You can complete the courses independently or 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 12 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 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.

OTA helping patient with stretching bands

Explore what OTA fieldwork will be like.

Ready to Explore Your Future in Occupational Therapy?

Is occupational therapy a good career? If changing lives is what you were called to do, occupational therapy could be a good career path for you. Complete the form to have an admissions counselor contact you to find out 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