It’s probably safe to assume you earned a degree in kinesiology because you want to help people live better lives. But what if you don’t want to be a physical or athletic trainer, fitness instructor, or exercise physiologist? Have you have found yourself asking, what can I do with a kinesiology degree?
One option you should consider is how you could utilize your knowledge of the mechanics of the human body and science behind exercise and fitness as a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA). But what exactly does a certified occupational therapy assistant do, and how can you become one?
What Exactly is an OTA?
Most people have heard of physical therapy — the physical treatment of a disease, injury or other condition using methods such as exercise or massage. Less known, though, is occupational therapy. In fact, some people think it’s just another name for physical therapy, while others believe it applies to work-related injuries only. Neither is correct.
Occupational therapy helps patients of all ages with disabilities, illnesses, and injuries to perform activities of daily living (ADLs), as well as to adapt to changes in their health so that they can live richer, more meaningful lives. This makes for a diverse range of practice areas, with occupational therapists (OTs) and OTAs finding work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, rehab clinics, schools, and retirement communities.
After meeting with a new patient for an initial evaluation, the occupational therapist puts together a treatment plan. It’s the job of the OTA to work with the patient to carry out this plan. Doing so requires extensive knowledge of the human body and occupational therapy interventions, as well as a good degree of creativity.
For example, on a given day you might:
- Make or recommend modifications to an elderly person’s home so that they can continue living there
- Help someone find a new way of doing a task so that they can get back to a more normal way of life
- Use equine-assisted occupational therapy to increase engagement and reduce anxiety in an autistic child
Making the Transition from Kinesiology to OTA
Now that you are more familiar with the OTA profession, let’s take a look at how you can leverage your kinesiology degree to become an OTA. Everything you’ve learned while earning your kinesiology degree will help you greatly both during OTA school and in your career, as you will be using your knowledge of how the human body functions and moves to implement movement-related treatment plans.
1. Find an OTA Program
The first step in becoming an OTA is finding a program that fits your needs as a student. At St. Kate’s, we offer an online OTA program that follows a blended model of learning. This means that you can complete your didactic courses completely online while still reaping the benefits of in-person learning during the skills labs and fieldwork portions of the curriculum. Because our program is 80% online and 20% in-person, you have lots of flexibility in both your schedule and even your location.
With our online OTA program, you can study from anywhere in the country, so long as you’re willing to travel to the once-monthly labs, which are held on Sundays, and the two, three-day Level I fieldwork experiences. When you enroll in the program, a fieldwork coordinator will work with you to identify Level II fieldwork opportunities in your area.
2. Complete Outstanding Prerequisites
As a kinesiology student, it is likely that some of the courses you have taken will overlap with the prerequisites required by your chosen program. However, you should still set up a meeting with an admissions counselor to go over which prerequisites might be covered by previous classes and which ones you will still have to take. At St. Kate’s, we offer the option to take those outstanding prerequisite courses through our university online. Keep in mind that for our program it is not required to have all your prerequisite courses completed before applying. However, we still recommend that you speak with an admissions counselor to come up with an education plan based around your previous experience.
3. Apply to an OTA Program
Once you have fulfilled all admissions requirements, it is time to apply to an OTA program. At St. Kate’s, we have three start dates per year for our OTA program. So, no matter when you decide to apply, you won’t be far from one of our start dates in January, May, and September. Once you are ready to apply to our program, speak with one of our admissions counselors and they can help make sure you have everything you need for your application and will also help you come up with a timeline to ensure that, if accepted, you can start at your desired date.
4. Successfully Complete The Curriculum
Once you’ve been accepted into a program, it’s time to get started with your classes. At St. Kate’s, our curriculum is comprised of three components: online courses and in-person skills labs and fieldwork. While the blended model of learning offers convenience and flexibility for our students, it is still important to emphasize that meeting deadlines and staying on track is imperative for success. While it may be challenging at times, keep the end goal in mind. Our program can be completed in as little as 16 months, and after that short time you’ll be on your way to your new career.
5. Take Your NCBOT and Apply for COTA Licensure
Once you’ve graduated from an OTA program, you must take the NCBOT before you are eligible to apply for COTA licensure. Passing this board exam proves that you are qualified to practice as a certified occupational therapy assistant. While this test may seem a bit intimidating, our curriculum will prepare you to do well on it. With that being said, we still recommend that you prepare for the exam before taking it. After making an account with the NCBOT website, you can access their online study tools.
After passing the NCBOT, it’s time to apply for COTA licensure in the state where you hope to practice. Because each state has slightly different regulations and application processes, be sure to research what you need to do to gain licensure in your state.
6. Use Your Knowledge and Education in Your New Career
Congratulations! Now you are officially ready to start using your previous and new education to succeed in your rewarding career as a certified OTA. Working as an OTA means that you’ll be able to do what you’re passionate about while applying all your kinesiology knowledge, but it also means that you’ll be making a great wage in a growing profession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the median salary for OTAs is $61,520 and has a job growth outlook of 34% between 2020 and 2030, which is much faster than the national average.
Ready to Get Started with Your Kinesiology to OTA Transition?
If you’re unsure about what you can do with a kinesiology degree and love helping people, St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program could be your path to a rewarding and in-demand profession. Contact an admissions counselor today to find out how you can graduate a practice-ready OTA in as few as 16 months.