There are many great reasons to be an OTA.
For Charmaine, who has worked as a teacher’s assistant, a counselor and a first-grade teacher — finding a career that would not only provide financial and job security but also allow her to make a difference in people’s lives was at the top of her mind.
“This feels like it’s my dream job,” says Charmaine, now in her first semester in St. Catherine University’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program. “It makes me happiest when I’m smiling and others are smiling and we’re helping one another.”
Although the OTA profession wasn’t her first choice for a career, it was only because she didn’t know the profession existed. She’s not alone. Though occupational therapy is experiencing tremendous growth — especially as healthcare providers look increasingly to interdisciplinary teams to provide more holistic care — the OTA profession remains relatively unknown. For now.
So what does an OTA do?
Occupational Therapy and the Role of OTAs
The field of occupational therapy was born a little more than 100 years ago with a simple aim: To help people affected by injuries, illnesses or disabilities to live happier, more meaningful lives. It wasn’t long before occupational therapy saw its first true test as soldiers returned from World War I, many of them facing the prospect of permanent disability. While traditional medicine could only do so much at that time, it became clear that occupational therapy could, at the very least, help these heroes to adapt to living with their injuries and, in many cases, distract them from the horrors of war.
Over the next century, occupational therapy would grow to encompass a wide variety of practice areas, as well as add new roles. In 1964, St. Catherine University — recognizing that occupational therapists (OTs) needed help — launched the United States’ first occupational therapy assistant program.
Basically, an OTA works under the OT. The OT will create the evaluation, the program, and then the OTA pretty much implements that plan.
In other words, the occupational therapist first meets with a client to assess his or her unique needs and then creates a treatment plan. It is the responsibility of the OTA to carry out this plan, documenting what has been done, what is working, where the client is struggling, etc., and report to the OT. However, the OTA doesn’t just take orders; OTAs have a lot of latitude in carrying out these plans, which can require creativity.
5 Reasons to Be an OTA
What’s so great about a career as an OTA? Here are five of the top reasons to be an OTA.
1. OTAs Change Lives
One of the great joys of being an OTA is seeing the difference you make in someone’s life — and that’s not something you can say for many jobs. While it’s easy for many of us to take for granted the ability to do seemingly easy tasks, like opening a jar or getting dressed in the morning, for someone with a disability, regaining these abilities is life-changing.
2. OTAs Treat People of All Ages
There’s a tendency to think of occupational therapy as being work-related only. Quite the opposite. Occupational therapists and therapy assistants work with people of all ages and can help with a wide range of problems. Some see a variety of patients (typically referred to as “clients”) spanning the six practice areas of occupational therapy, and others specialize in specific fields.
For example, as an OTA you might:
- Use games to help a child to overcome a developmental disability.
- Assist someone with limited mobility in learning to use adaptive tools to regain the ability to cook.
- Educate a stroke survivor on lifestyle changes that can minimize the risk of another stroke.
- Recommend and implement home modifications that allow an elderly client to maintain independence.
Charmaine hopes to find a job working with children, something for which she says her past jobs have prepared her.
“I taught first grade, I worked at a mental health facility, I was a teacher’s assistant,” she explains. “I love playing with kids, and especially with OT, you are teaching them through play — how to interact, how to utilize toys, how to properly use their hand-eye coordination.”
3. Occupational Therapy Is a Creative Profession
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 the patient’s unique (and changing) needs requires a degree of creativity. 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 use by a patient who has poor grip strength. The sky is the limit when it comes to the work of OTAs.
4. OTAs Are in High Demand and Make Good Money
Money should never be the only reason you choose a profession — especially one centered around helping others. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly understandable to want a career that allows you to earn a healthy living, which was on the top of Charmaine’s mind.
“For me, job stability is priority number one,” she says. “I’ve done my research. I’ve looked around the whole country for jobs and salary.”
So what does the research say?
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, as of May 2020, there were 55,100 OTAs nationwide, with a median annual wage of $60,950. However, more OTAs are needed. The BLS predicts that the number of practicing OTAs in the U.S. will grow 32% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the average for all other occupations, and that’s just the short term. As more healthcare providers incorporate occupational therapy into patients’ overall care and more insurers (including Medicare) increase coverage for occupational therapy, the demand will likely grow further.
5. You Can Become an OTA in Much Less Time than it Takes to Become an OT
Until recently, Charmaine wasn’t aware of the occupational therapy assistant profession. She only knew about occupational therapists and didn’t want to pursue a master’s degree, so she was excited to learn that she could become an OTA through St. Kate’s Online OTA program in as few as 16 months.
Of course, how long the program takes you depends on whether you prefer to take the liberal arts and sciences (LAS) coursework portion of the program before starting the OTA program or during. In Charmaine’s case, because she already has a bachelor’s degree, she only needed to take two of the six LAS courses, which she opted to take prior to beginning her OTA coursework on account of working a full-time job while in school.
“What was nice about it was that I did learn a lot about St. Catherine [University],” says Charmaine of her experience with the LAS coursework. “I did learn a lot about the background and what they [St. Kate’s] stand for, what they value. It was really helpful to put things into perspective because I didn’t have previous knowledge of how the program came to be.”
Did you know? You don’t have to relocate to become an OTA. We explain how our program makes this possible through a mix of online learning and well-planned labs and fieldwork.
Are You Ready to Make a Difference as an OTA?
As a leader in the field, St. Kate’s has a reputation for producing compassionate, knowledgeable OTAs who are well-prepared to sit for the NBCOT® certification exam and to make a difference in people’s lives. Contact us to find out how we can put you on the path to success in this rewarding field.