If you’ve read all of the articles listing obvious careers that help people and still find yourself asking, “What is a job that helps people and is a good fit for me?” you owe it to yourself to consider a career in occupational therapy.
Not only is occupational therapy one of the fastest-growing healthcare fields today — allowing you to work with a variety of conditions and age groups — it’s possible to join this rewarding profession in as few as 16–24 months by becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) through St. Catherine University’s Online OTA program.
Today, we’ll be discussing this high-demand career that helps people and whether it’s a good fit for you.
What Is Occupational Therapy and How Does It Help People?
Despite widespread use across the country, occupational therapy is not a particularly well-known healthcare field. In fact, many people first learn about occupational therapy when recommended to them by a doctor or other healthcare practitioner, and even then, it gets confused with physical therapy. However, while often complementary to each other, occupational therapy and physical therapy differ considerably, with PT focusing primarily on range of motion and movement while occupational therapy looks more at the person as a whole, encompassing both mental and physical health and functioning.
Quite simply, the goal of occupational therapy is to help people with injuries, illnesses or disabilities to achieve independence and perform activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs are the things we need to do to lead rich, fulfilling lives, and they’re different for everyone. For example, an ADL for a child with autism might be going to school, which can require overcoming social phobias or learning to navigate a world of complex social cues — and occupational therapy might also involve working with the parents, too. Or for someone who suffered a traumatic brain injury, the goal of occupational therapy might be relearning the skills needed to return to work and daily living.
This makes occupational therapy a remarkably broad field, serving the needs of six distinct areas of practice:
- Children and Youth
- Productive Aging
- Health and Wellness
- Mental Health
- Rehabilitation and Disability
- Work and Industry
And the therapies — or interventions as they’re called — employed to help clients achieve their goals are equally varied, ranging from basic exercises and rethinking ways of accomplishing tasks to making home modifications and life changes. Occupational therapy can even include the use of therapy animals (such as horses), especially when working with children with developmental disabilities or people with balance issues.
This affords occupational therapy practitioners the flexibility to specialize in specific areas of interest or to take a more general approach, working with patients of all ages and needs. It also means that occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants can work in a variety of settings, including homes, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, schools, workplaces and more.
The Role of OTAs in Occupational Therapy
While we won’t go too far into the differences between OTs vs. OTAs, the simple explanation is that OTs evaluate patients to determine what conditions are affecting them and how, talk to them about their treatment goals and what matters most to them, and then decide on a plan of action. They then prescribe treatments, typically to be carried out by an occupational therapy assistant.
This gives OTAs latitude to get creative in how they work with their clients — and it means no two days are the same. This also requires a thorough understanding of psychosocial approaches to care, the practice of rehabilitation, pediatric care, aging and more — all of which you’ll learn about in St. Kate’s ACOTE-accredited Online OTA program.
The Job Market for Occupational Therapy Assistants
Considering the wide variety of settings OTAs can find work and the fact that Americans, in general, are requiring ever-greater levels of care, it is not hard to see why the occupational therapy profession is growing at a rate that far surpasses that of the overall American job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of employed OTAs is expected to grow 32 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is in stark contrast to the projected 3.7 percent growth for all occupations overall. Additionally, as of May 2020, the BLS reports a median annual wage of $60,950, with California, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas and Connecticut as the highest-paying states for OTAs. No wonder, OTA made U.S. News & World Report’s list of top 10 highest-paying jobs requiring an associate degree.
How Does St. Kate’s Online OTA Program Work?
Our unique Online OTA program blends online coursework with hands-on labs held about once a month at one of our learning sites in either California, Texas or Virginia, as well as two levels of fieldwork. During your Level I Fieldwork, you will observe occupational therapy practitioners at work in actual practice settings over the course of two, three-day sessions. In Level II Fieldwork, you’ll gain real-life experience while completing 720 hours of supervised fieldwork in two settings.
Thanks to this blended learning format, it’s possible to graduate ready to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam in as few as 16–24 months. How long it will take you depends on your previous education history and how many of the prerequisite course credits you already meet.
Become an OTA and Change Lives
It's time to take action and start making a difference as an OTA. If you've been asking yourself:
What is a job that helps people?
Consider Occupational Therapy, one of the fastest-growing healthcare fields today that allows you to work with a variety of conditions and age groups.
Give us a call today, or fill out the form, to find out whether St. Kate’s Online OTA program is your path to a career in caring.