Let’s be honest … every job has its upsides and its downsides. Before making a decision about your future, you need to be sure a career is right for you, and that means looking at both and deciding what matters most to you.
To help you make the best choice, we’ll be taking a look at the pros and cons of an occupational therapy assistant career.
The Pros of an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career
You Will Make a Difference in People’s Lives
If you’re seeking a career that allows you to change lives, look no further. As an OTA, you will make a difference in people’s lives every single day — helping them to live better, maintain or regain independence, learn new skills, improve mobility, and adapt to or overcome disabilities, among other things.
You Can Work with People of All Ages and in a Variety of Settings
If you subscribe to the notion that variety is the spice of life, then you’ll love the diversity of opportunities afforded by a career in occupational therapy. OTAs work within six practice areas, encompassing the full human life spectrum, meaning they can find work in a number of settings. As the use of occupational therapy becomes more and more widespread, so too will OTAs find themselves working in an ever-greater variety of places.
What Are the Six Occupational Therapy Practice Areas? Learn about each of these exciting practice areas.
OTAs Are in Exceptionally High Demand
When researching careers, there’s one thing everyone wants to know: What the job market looks like. Good news! The future is bright for anyone considering becoming an OTA. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the number of working OTAs will increase by a whopping 33% between 2018 and 2028. That’s especially significant when you consider that the agency projects that the labor market as a whole will grow just 5% over that same time period. Of course, demand varies by state. A recent report by CareerBuilder ranked OTAs as the most in-demand, high-paying job in both California and Michigan right now. However, it’s not just the demand that makes this little-known field an attractive career option …
While the true reward of being an OTA is going home knowing you are making a difference, you’ll be happy to know that being an occupational therapy assistant can pay quite well. In fact, OTA regularly appears on lists of top-paying jobs that require an associate’s degree. According to the BLS, the median wage for OTAs is $60,220, though it varies considerably by location.
You Don’t Have to Move to Become an OTA
With St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program, you can study to become an OTA without needing to relocate, so long as you are willing to travel to one of our learning sites in California, Texas or Virginia. Our innovative, online curriculum means that you can complete the majority of your studies on your schedule, where it’s convenient for you, while still getting the hands-on training and experience you need. How is this possible? The hands-on portion of our Online OTA program consists of:
- Skills labs held about once a month on Sundays
- Two, three-day Level I Fieldwork sessions
- Two, 320-hour Level II Fieldwork sessions
While that may sound like a lot, it’s important to note that you will only need to travel for once-monthly skills labs and two Level I Fieldwork sessions — something many of our students do. When you enroll in the program, a fieldwork coordinator will work with you to find Level II Fieldwork opportunities near where you live. However, keep in mind that this depends on where you live and what is in your area. If Level II Fieldwork opportunities cannot be found nearby, you may need to relocate temporarily for this final step of your OTA education.
Related Post: Wherever you live, our Online OTA program isn't that far away.
It’s Possible to Have a Flexible Schedule
OTAs, like many healthcare support roles, have a lot of options when it comes to their schedule. A quick search of OTA jobs reveals a wide variety of full-time and part-time opportunities. Some jobs, like those in nursing homes and hospitals, may offer fixed schedules, while others vary based on the setting, and needs and schedules of their clients. Nor are OTA jobs confined to Monday through Friday. Some OTAs work weekends, and may even prefer it.
It’s a Stepping Stone on the Path to Becoming an Occupational Therapy
Becoming an OTA is a great way to experience the field of occupational therapy without needing to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. In fact, we’ve had a number of students who chose our program because they wanted to get into this fast-growing field but were tired of sitting on occupational therapist program waitlists. For those who plan on returning to school later to become an occupational therapist, there are a number of OTA-to-OT bridge programs available to OTAs with experience in the field. And on top of that …
OTAs Get to Work Closely with Occupational Therapists and Other Disciplines
As an OTA, you’ll work closely with not only occupational therapists, allowing you to continue learning after you graduate, but you’ll also get to see other medical practitioners at work. Depending on the client’s needs and situation, you could work with any number of medical disciplines. For example, you might coordinate care with a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant, speech pathologist, registered nurse, or doctor, just to name a few.
The Cons of Becoming an OTA
You’ll Explain What You Do Constantly
It’s no secret that many people have never heard of occupational therapy. That’s part of what makes it such a great field to get into right now. As we previously discussed, the demand for occupational therapy services has never been greater, yet because occupational therapy is not as well-known as, say, nursing or physical therapy, a lot of people don’t pursue it as a career choice. This means big opportunities for people who enter the field. Just be ready to give that elevator speech on “What Is Occupational Therapy?”
The Work Can Be Challenging Emotionally and Physically
Though helping people live their best lives is immensely rewarding, it can be emotionally draining at times — something anyone who has worked in healthcare can attest to. Though the majority of clients are gracious and appreciate everything you are doing for them, some are going to be negative about their conditions and need a lot of encouragement. Others may be difficult to work with because of a mental health or memory condition. Not to mention, it can be hard to see people in vulnerable states.
In all these instances, it’s important to remember why you got into this field in the first place: to make a difference.
Additionally, the work of an OTA can be physically taxing. It’s for this reason that students not only learn methods for helping clients overcome challenges, but also techniques for avoiding injury. For example, in labs, students practice helping clients out of wheelchairs and beds in ways that minimize the risk of hurting themselves in the process.
OTA Practice Regulations and Demand Varies by Location
While demand for occupational therapy assistants is growing, particularly in home care settings, it’s important to keep in mind that demand varies from one place to another. If you have no intentions of moving after school, you’ll want to research opportunities in your area. You might even reach out to local OTs and OTAs to get a feel for what’s available near you.
Also worth considering are the insurance and state practice acts governing what and how much OTAs can do in your state, and how much training is required. For example, each state has different continuing education requirements. While the American Occupational Therapy Association is a great resource, your admissions advisor can also help you.
You May Still Need to Travel for Labs and Fieldwork
Thanks to St. Kate’s convenient online coursework, much of your OTA education will take place on your time at your home, local library or favorite coffee shop. However, hands-on learning is also a critical element of your OTA training. If you do not live near one of our learning sites in California, Texas or Virginia, you’ll need to travel to the once-monthly skills labs and Level I Fieldwork.
Additionally, while your fieldwork coordinator will work diligently to find you Level II Fieldwork opportunities near where you live, if nothing can be found in your immediate area, you may be required to commute or even relocate temporarily to complete the required 640 hours of supervised practice. Keep in mind that as part of your Level II Fieldwork, you will spend 320 hours in a physical disabilities setting and another 320 hours in an emerging practice setting. This ensures you graduate with a wealth of experience in real-life practice settings.
It Could Take Longer than 16–24 Months to Earn Your Degree
Thanks to our Online OTA program, it’s possible to earn your Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in OTA in as few as 16–24 months. Our program is open to students of all educational backgrounds (so long as you meet the GPA requirements), whether you are fresh out of high school or have an existing bachelor’s degree. Just be aware that it may take students with very limited (or no) college experience longer to complete our program curriculum and thus earn a degree.
You Still Have to Get Licensed After Graduating from an OTA Program
As with many healthcare careers, you can’t begin practicing as an OTA the day you graduate. Regardless of what OTA program you could, you must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and register with your state’s occupational therapy regulatory body to be licensed as a Certified OTA (COTA). Fortunately, students of St. Kate’s Online Occupational Therapy Assistant program have an advantage over OTA students at other schools. In their third semester, Online OTA students participate in an intensive NBCOT Prep Coaching Program featuring a seven-week study plan custom-tailored to their needs, weekly group study sessions, and one-on-one coaching sessions with a licensed OT practitioner.
OTAs Are Not in Charge
Depending on your personality, this could be a pro or a con. Occupational therapy assistants work under the guidance of an occupational therapist, who conducts the client evaluation and assessment, then comes up with treatment goals and a big-picture plan for accomplishing them. With the exception of small practices, where the OT may do it all, the OTA then steps in to carry out the plan, keeping the occupational therapist informed of the client’s progress and collaborating with him or her throughout the process. This gives OTAs significant room for creativity in how they approach and accomplish these goals. So while OTAs are not in charge, they aren’t just order-takers, either.
Is an OTA Career Right for You?
As with any job, there are pros and cons to an occupational therapy assistant career. Ultimately, it comes down to what you want out of a career. If you’re ready to embark on your OTA school journey, give us a call today to learn more about our Online OTA program, or fill out the form to have an admissions counselor call you.