OT vs OTA: Similarities, Differences, and How They Work Together

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When you are trying to decide between occupational therapy career options, it’s important to look at what you will be doing in OT vs OTA roles and compare. You will want to learn about your day-to-day tasks, the people you will work with and the education you will need before you can begin your career. Keep in mind that if you do decide you want to become an OTA, St. Catherine University offers an Online Occupational Therapy Assistant Program that can be completed in as little as 16 months.

Working as an occupational therapy assistant requires the ability to work with a team. Not only do you work with your patient, but you will work closely with an occupational therapist to develop and carry out treatment plans. We share some information on the specific roles, differences and the relationship between an occupational therapist and an occupational therapy assistant.

What is an OT?

An occupational therapist, or OT, provides therapy for their patients to help them complete day-to-day activities that may be difficult for them, due to an injury, disability or illness, with the goal of helping them either regain or maintain their independence. Occupational therapists can work with a wide patient demographic (from children to the elderly and anyone in between) as well as diverse settings (OT offices, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, etc.).

The everyday activities of an OT are heavily dependent on the setting in which they work, however generally OTs should expect to evaluate patients and create treatment plans based on these evaluations. They will also be actively overseeing their patients’ therapy sessions by demonstrating an activity or how to use certain tools, helping the patient with their exercises, educating patients on exercises they can complete at home and more. Additionally, OTs will communicate their patients’ progress with their families and other healthcare professionals so that everyone can work as a team and be informed.

What is an OTA?

An occupational therapy assistant, or OTA, has very similar duties to OTs, except they conduct their work under the supervision of an OT. OTAs also have a wide range of specialties, patient populations and work environments available to them. However, general job responsibilities include implementing the treatment plans created by the OTs, monitoring patient progress and adjusting treatment accordingly. On a day-to-day basis, an OTA can expect to collaborate with their supervisory OT and will spend most of their time assisting patients with their various exercises and activities.

The Online OTA Program at St. Kate’s prepares its graduates to work with these patients through hands-on skills labs. These labs allow our students to practice some of these skills before entering the workforce, so that they can interact with and treat patients confidently.

OT vs OTA: What’s the Difference?

While there are many similarities between OTs and OTAs in their job description and daily duties, there are a few key distinctions you must be aware of so that you can decide which route is the best for you.


One of the main differences between OTs and OTAs is the level of responsibility they hold. While both are responsible for treating patients, occupational therapists are involved in all of the evaluation and setting goals for patients whereas certified occupational therapy assistants use the information gleaned from the evaluation and goals of the treatment plan. At some facilities, the certified OTA may have a greater caseload than the OT due to the extra paperwork required of the occupational therapist. Because OTs supervise their work, an OTA must have their daily notes signed by an OT, whereas OTs do not have to have a cosigner.

If you prefer more autonomy and enjoy managing others and delegating tasks, you may prefer the role of an OT. On the other hand, if you dislike paperwork and administrative tasks and enjoy being hands-on and working with patients, you may consider becoming a certified OTA.

Education Requirements

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Occupational therapists have a more intense education requirement than occupational therapy assistants. OTs will have to obtain their bachelor’s degree and then complete a master’s-level education before passing their certification exam to begin working as an OT. OTAs, on the other hand, are required to complete a two-year associate degree before passing their certification exam.

In order to be accepted into an OTA program, however, you still must meet a few requirements. For St. Kate’s OTA program, for example, requires applicants to have at least a high school diploma (or pass the GED) and have a GPA of 2.5. Several prerequisite classes must also be taken.

Salary and Job Outlook

Along with more responsibility and education comes increased compensation for OTs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the median salary for an OT to be $85,570 per year whereas they estimate OTA salary to be around $61,520 per year. Both occupations have incredibly high job outlooks for 2020-2030, however OTAs have a higher outlook at 34% whereas for OTs it’s about 17%.

COTAs and OTs Working Together

Despite differences between OT vs OTA, the most important aspect of the OTA/OT relationship is communication. Both the OTA and OT needs to be strong communicators to allow each professional to treat their patients to the best of their ability.

For example, if during treatment, the OTA or OT feels like the treatment plan need to be updated, they work together to make those adjustments. The OTA is allowed to spearhead this; however, the OT is responsible for the changes and must document them.

OT student with older man in kitchen helping crack an egg

Overall, both OTs and OTAs have very important roles to play at work, and both professionals rely heavily on each other. Teamwork and communication between the OTA and OT and other members of the team is imperative to being able to provide the best care for the patients.

Want to learn more about St. Catherine University’s online OTA program? Speak with an advisor today.

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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