For the second year in a row, U.S. News & World Report named occupational therapy assistant (OTA) the #1 best healthcare support job. In addition to holding the top healthcare support spot in 2017, the publication ranked OTA #12 on its The 100 Best Jobs list. Clearly, an occupational therapy assistant career is a smart choice.
To arrive at these rankings, U.S. News & World Report looked at a number of factors:
- Median salary — According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2016, the average OTA made $59,010 a year, with jobs in the home healthcare and nursing care sectors paying the most.
- Unemployment rate — At just 0.6%, few occupations have a lower unemployment rate than occupational therapy assistant. This is particularly good news for job seekers, as it signifies high demand. (The higher the unemployment rate, the more difficult it is to find a job, especially for those with limited experience.)
- Job growth projections — The field of Occupational therapy is experiencing considerable growth, which is unlikely to change any time too soon. Based on new data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the OTA profession to grow 29% between 2016 and 2026.
- Job satisfaction — Occupational therapy assistants tend to be satisfied with their jobs. Not only are they doing work they can feel good about, there are many opportunities for career and salary growth. Additionally, OTAs report a healthy work-life balance, scheduling flexibility and only moderate job stress levels.
So just what is occupational therapy and what does an occupational therapy assistant do?
What Is Occupational Therapy?
The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is to help people with disabilities, illnesses and injuries to perform everyday tasks, called activities of daily living (ADL). To achieve this, an occupational therapist assesses a client’s needs and then prescribes a treatment plan, which is typically carried out by an occupational therapy assistant.
Inspired by Enlightenment ideas and pioneered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, occupational therapy rose to prominence in World Wars I and II, when it was used to help rehabilitate wounded soldiers. (If you want to know more about the history of occupational therapy, see our blog The Evolution of Occupational Therapy Through the Years.)
Thanks to a variety of factors including expanded healthcare coverage, increased awareness of medical conditions and an aging Baby Boomer population, occupational therapy is now one of the fastest growing healthcare fields, encompassing six core practice areas:
- Children and Youth
- Productive Aging
- Mental Health
- Health and Wellness
- Rehabilitation and Disability
- Work and Industry
The Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Explained
As mentioned earlier, occupational therapy assistants work with clients to administer the prescribed treatments. Due to the wide variety of conditions treated by occupational therapy, treatment plans (referred to as “interventions”) vary considerably, often requiring creativity on the part of the OTA.
Every day a client presents a unique challenge. One day you might work with a child with cerebral palsy to perform exercises designed to improve his or her gait. The next, you might help an elderly person regain the ability to cook by making modifications to utensils. Occupational therapists and OTAs don’t work solely with clients one on one. Occupational therapy might include working with a family to help them through the emotional aspects of an aging family member’s progressing dementia, or leading group activity sessions at a nursing home.
Because of the diverse audiences and needs treated by occupational therapy, OTAs work in a wide variety of settings, including:
- Rehabilitation centers
- Therapists’ offices
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Retirement communities
Some OTAs even make home visits for clients who are unable to get around or require home modifications to maintain their independence.
The Personality Traits of an OTA
In addition to possessing the ability to look at and solve problems creatively, being an OTA requires patience and compassion. Progress can be hard-won and often requires determination and tenacity. As an OTA, you‘ll often find yourself playing the role of cheerleader for your clients, making a positive attitude an absolute must.
And as with many healthcare support roles, empathy and strong communication skills are crucial, considering OTAs spend the vast majority of their time interacting with clients.
How to Become an OTA
To become a Certified OTA (COTA), you must earn an Associate of Applied Sciences (AAS) in OTA degree and subsequently pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®). Most OTA degree programs take about two years to complete, though some programs, like St. Catherine’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program, allow you to earn a degree in as few as 16 months.
Become an OTA in as Few as 16 Months with a Degree from St. Catherine University
If you’re interested in pursuing a career as an OTA, St. Catherine can get you there sooner. Offering three program starts — in January, May and September — and cohorts in Virginia, Texas and California, with St. Kate’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program, it’s possible to earn your AAS in OTA in as few as 16 months. Combining online learning, hands-on skills labs and supervised fieldwork, our unique program offers the convenience of online learning with the real-world experience needed to prepare you for an occupational therapy assistant career.
With St. Kate’s you can take comfort knowing that you’re getting your education from a leader in the field — in 1964, we introduced the United States’ first OTA degree program, and in 2014, we became the first school in the country to offer an Online OTA program.
Talk to an Admissions Counselor today, or fill out the form on this page, to find out if our Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program is right for you.