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Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Explained

Occupational therapy is one of the medical field’s best kept secrets. It’s a promising and flexible career that allows you to be creative, hands-on, and innovative. You’re probably wondering, “What exactly does this career entail?” Glad you asked!

Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Explained

When a person becomes injured, diagnosed or disabled, an occupational therapy assistant would help this client work within their limitations to perform everyday tasks independently.

Unlike physical therapists, OTAs do not focus therapy on helping clients recover from their physical limitations. Instead, OTAs meet clients where they are to teach them ways to accomplish tasks while they are still recovering.

Check out this short video to have the occupational therapy assistant career explained by OTAs currently working in the field!

What Kinds of Things Will I Be Doing?

Recovering from an arm injury could take weeks or even months. If you love cooking, you may not want to wait that long to get back into the kitchen. That’s where an OTA comes in. Simple tasks like holding a knife, dicing vegetables, or sautéing meals may be harder for you now. Fortunately, these are all things an OTA can teach you to do – whether you’re wearing a cast, struggling with range of motion, or battling arthritis.

Your OTA could show you some unique ways to hold the knife or introduce you to cooking utensils that have adjustable handles. Your OTA would not focus on strengthening your arm (your physical therapist would handle that), but would actually focus on helping you find ways to continue doing what you love.

An OTA career is rewarding in that you can see the difference your work makes in every patient’s life. That’s what Karl, an Occupational Therapist in acute care, loves about being an OTA.

“There are so many great patient moments,” says Karl. “My favorite are always the ones that say, ‘you’ve changed my life.’”

Who Will I Work With?

As an OTA student, you will learn to work with all kinds of clients through fieldwork. Fieldwork gives you a chance to experience real OT environments and work with actual clients under professional OT supervision. After completing your fieldwork, you will have the privilege of choosing the types of clients you want to work with most.

Becky Anderson was completely unaware of the OTA profession and the flexibility it offers until she became an OTR. Now, she’s the Academic Fieldwork Coordinator for St. Catherine University.

“I wish people knew that they could work with almost any population they desired,” says Becky. “They are only limited by their desire and creativity on how they want to use their skills.”

Becky is right. Occupational therapists can work with clients within the following six practice areas at any time:

  1. Children and Youth – This segment includes children and young adults who have autism, learning challenges, or physical limitations.
  2. Productive Aging – This well-known segment includes elderly clients who may need your help maintaining their independence within the home, adapting to using a wheelchair, or learning new ways to cook and clean.
  3. Health and Wellness – Clients in this segment have chronic diseases or pain and rely on occupational therapy to stay mobile, maintain healthy activity levels, and continue overall healthy lives.
  4. Mental Health – OTAs work within a mental health environment to help these clients develop essential life skills and overcome mental health challenges.
  5. Rehabilitation and Disability – You would help clients suffering from injuries or illness to help them regain independence.
  6. Work and Industry – These clients need occupational therapy to return to work after an injury or illness. You might help them adapt to their work environment and tasks, or find ways help prevent injuries.

Working with various clients inspired and helped Becky pinpoint the practice area she was most passionate about. Becky discovered her love of working with people who suffer from neuro conditions.

“I was inspired by my first case with a patient that had poly-mylitis, which completely impaired his ability to move,” says Becky. “I was able to treat him and observe him gain movement and function to the point that he could return home. That started the love that I have for working with neuro conditions and specifically working with patients diagnosed with MS.”

What Makes the OTA Career Different From Other Medical Careers?

Simply put, occupational therapy assisting is the best healthcare career you’ve never heard of. According to the US News and World Report, the OTA career is identified as the best healthcare career support job of 2016 due to its anticipated career growth and earning potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also estimates the number of OTA jobs in the U.S. will grow by 41 percent.

In addition to job security, the OTA profession allows you to have the schedule that works best for you. If you enjoy working 9am-5pm, no problem. If you prefer a more flexible schedule or perhaps you like working in various settings, no problem.

Karl likes that as an OT he can have a busy schedule teaching students and helping clients.

“I have mostly worked in acute care in teaching hospitals,” says Karl. “I love the fast pace and medical background needed. Overall, my favorite is working with cancer patients/survivors throughout their care.”

Your schedule could be as busy and ever-changing as you’d like. A day as an OTA might consist of a few hours at a school working with children, a few hours in the afternoon working with clients in a hospital, and an hour in the evening teaching nursing students about the OTA field.

Check out why so many OTA’s love their job.

How Do I Become an OTA?

If you think occupational therapy is a career you’d love, St. Catherine’s University is one of the nation’s leaders in OTA education. Combining online coursework with hands-on skills labs and fieldwork experience, this program is designed to have you working as an OTA in as little as 16 months.

To learn more about the online occupational therapy assistant program at St. Catherine’s, contact our admissions team today.

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