Occupational Therapy Assistant: A Job Helping People

Occupational therapy, a field that many people have never heard of, is finally getting its time in the spotlight. Specifically, occupational therapy assisting is making headlines for being a meaningful career. The U.S. News and World Report released their 100 Best Jobs of 2016 and both occupational therapy assisting and occupational therapists made the list!

How does the U.S. News and World Report rank all of the various jobs and compile a list of 100? They look at jobs that pay well, are challenging, are a good match for talent and skills, aren’t too stressful, offer room to advance and provide a great work-life balance for employees. Also, and this is an obvious one, the best jobs are the ones that are hiring – now! The occupational therapy assistant position earned the #25 spot on the list of top-ranked occupations, with occupational therapists taking the #23 spot. Plus, U.S. News and World Report ranked OTA as the #1 health care support job!


But it doesn’t stop there. In addition to being ranked on U.S. News and World Report, Business Insider also listed occupational therapists as the 11th most meaningful job in America. Why? Because at its core, occupational therapy is a job that helps people. We talked with St. Catherine University faculty members and OTA graduates about a time when they knew that they’d made an impact on a client’s life – their responses are breathtaking.

Kathleen Matuska, Professor & Program Director in OT

Before transitioning into academia, Kathleen worked in a wide variety of occupational therapy settings, from hospitals to skilled nursing facilities to schools. Here, she shares a story of how she helped an elderly gentleman in a long-term care facility.

“I was working in a nursing home and there was this really, really mean old man who would sit out in the hall and he would cuss and swear. He wouldn’t cooperate. He was just a miserable cause. I decided that I was going to get to know him and as an occupational therapist, I introduced myself and every day I would go and talk to him. I would tease him back and he would swear at me and I’d say, ‘Come on, is that the best you can do? I’ve heard those words before. Give me something new.’ We started to laugh and he’d hold his head up. I actually got him to do some activities, some crafts. He was the most miserable person ever and he ended up looking forward to my visits and really being a different person. He was the most fun and the most challenging.”

"We started to laugh and he’d hold his head up. [...] He was the most miserable person ever and he ended up looking forward to my visits and really being a different person."

Brenda, St. Kate's Graduate, 2015 OTA Online program


Brenda was a part of the first-ever OTA Online class and graduated in December 2015. She was looking for a flexible program that would allow her to stay home with her young daughter. Here she talks about a client she encountered during her fieldwork assignment.

“I had a client who was admitted and came in really depressed. She had lost her dog and her husband in the same week and she had had a fall and wasn’t able to walk or use the bathroom. She had some mental and physical issues too. She was up and out of her wheelchair, but she was scared to use her walker. So, we made fuzzy blue handles and made it fun. It made her want to use her walker. I got really close to her throughout my whole fieldwork. We had a special connection and she’s someone I won’t forget.”

Rebecca Anderson, Academic Field Work Coordinator

Before joining St. Catherine University, Becky specialized in neurodegenerative disorders, helping people with multiple sclerosis. Becky hasn’t worked with this client in years, but he still sends her a Christmas card every year.

“I found a couple that had been married for 50 years.  [The husband’s] MS was really starting to become a problem for [the wife], but she was determined to be the caregiver for him. He’d been diagnosed with MS for 25 of those years. They wanted to stay in the house and when they came to me, it was as a last resort. OT is a profession where you still get to spend time with clients. Just spending time listening to them, we were able to identify what was most important to the family and to the husband and wife. We were able to problem solve so they could stay [in their home]. What took me maybe four days, will impact their lives for the next five, ten years. I think we forget how important our role is and how impactful we can be on someone’s life. I still get Christmas cards from them even though I haven’t worked with them in three years.”

"...What took me maybe four days, will impact their lives for the next five, ten years."

Courtney, St. Kate's Graduate, 2015 OTA Online program

OTA graduate increasing quality of life for patients

Courtney had worked in other healthcare support jobs, but finally found her fit as an occupational therapy assistant. Here, she shares a story of how she helped a client learn to communicate again.

“He had moderate to severe stage of dementia and was very hard of hearing. Communicating with him was extremely difficult. I often felt like I was yelling at him and I realized that I needed to try something different. So we started a written communication and initially, his written communication was not legible. I worked with him and did repetition with letters or words. I would watch his lips and see that he could read it and see what he was saying. At one point during the repetition, he started to verbalize [words] to me and started talking and communicating back! He would get frustrated and I would tell him it was okay and to take his time. He got to a point where he could just talk to me.

Stories like these are not uncommon in occupational therapy, a career founded on helping people. Occupational therapy assisting is an incredibly meaningful job helping people live more meaningful lives.

Are you interested in a meaningful career as an occupational therapy assistant? Contact the St. Catherine University admissions team today!

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