As one of the most in-demand jobs in the medical field, pursuing a career as an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) can be very rewarding and fulfilling. OTAs typically work alongside an occupational therapist (OT), and their goal is to help improve the quality of a person’s life and their ability to perform daily tasks through rehabilitative exercises and activities.
If you are a creative, friendly, and compassionate individual looking to work in the medical field and make a difference in peoples’ lives, here are some reasons to consider a career as an OTA:
Occupational therapy assisting is one of the fastest-growing careers in the medical field. According to the Bureau Labor of Statistics (BLS), overall employment is projected to grow 32 percent from 2019 to 2029¹. This is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations, which is currently at four percent. Moreover, the demand for OTAs is on the rise as occupational therapy will continue to be an integral part of treatment for people with various disabilities and illnesses.
Versatile and creative work environment
OTAs work in a variety of settings. While most work in occupational therapists’ offices, there are also many who work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, school systems, and outpatient clinics. Aside from having the flexibility to choose their work settings, OTAs also get to work with patients of all ages: kids, adults, and the geriatric population.
Every day is different for an OTA. They see many patients, and each patient’s care plan is so unique. OTAs are known to be very creative in their problem solving skills. When a patient is not able to do an activity that they were once able to do, it is the OTA’s job to help them regain the ability to do that activity, and even come up with new solutions. An OTA will need to adjust their level of creativity with each and every patient. On an average day, an OTA might:
- Assist the occupational therapist in coming up with a treatment plan for the patient
- Prepare the environment for the patient
- Work with the patient on various goals and treatment plans
- Document how the patient did during their session
- Monitor a patient’s progress
- Attend rehab team meetings
- Order more supplies for the clinic or patient
Making a difference in peoples’ lives
Helping people achieve what they thought was no longer possible is a very rewarding feeling. Many occupational therapy patients are facing difficult obstacles, so bringing them to a place where they can see improvement speaks volumes. OTAs teach patients how to get back to doing the things that are important to them, like getting dressed, eating food, getting back to work, driving, etc. Most people are under the assumption that “occupation” refers to jobs, but really, “occupation” in the OTA profession means helping people relearn how to do the things that are meaningful to them. For many of us, getting dressed in the morning and eating breakfast may seem like mundane tasks, but for someone who maybe just had a stroke, learning how to do these tasks again completely changes their life.
Flexible career and schedule
Aside from having the ability to work in a variety of settings, most OTAs can also enjoy a flexible work schedule. One day, they may be at a school working with kids. Another day, they may be at a nursing home clinic working with the elderly. OTAs also have the opportunity to travel and practice their profession, if they choose. A traveling occupational therapy assistant helps with therapy programs at different locations. This is an excellent option for individuals who want to use their expertise and help patients while traveling.
Fast track into healthcare
While most careers, especially those in healthcare, require higher or continuing education, becoming an OTA allows you to delve into the medical field fairly quickly. The career does not require a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Individuals need to obtain an associate’s degree, which takes approximately two years. Once they get their degree, they have to complete a few months of fieldwork to gain hands-on experience. Following their externship, they will have a certain amount of time to take a national certification examination, which will then allow them to become a certified occupational therapist assistant (COTA).
Working both independently and in a team environment
When the doctor sends a referral, the OT is the one that sets up the treatment plan. They identify the problem and set the goals for the patient. The OTA can sometimes help with the evaluation process, but they are not the ones who establish the treatment plan. The OTA works under the direction of the OT. After the OT sets up the treatment plan, the OTA continues with the treatment. The OT has far less interaction with the patient; the OTA is the one who is actually executing the treatment plan, seeing the patients every day and working hands-on with them to meet their wellness goals. Although an OTA will always have the guidance and support of the occupational therapist, they do have a lot of freedom and independence. Their responsibilities are vital in meeting the wellness goals of the patients. This career path is perfect for individuals who are self-starters and who like having the freedom to work alone, but still want someone there to guide them through the obstacles they encounter.
Opportunities to advance and learn
Because OTAs work so closely with a team of medical professionals, they will continuously gain new knowledge. Depending on the setting they choose to work in, they might be working closely with speech pathologists, registered nurses, physical therapists, etc. This will give them a more well-rounded experience in the field.
In addition, an OTA also has the opportunity to advance their career by becoming a registered occupational therapist. Working as an OTA will give them lots of exposure and experience in the field. They may choose to go back to school later down the road to become an OT. Depending on where they choose to work, OTAs may have the opportunity to move into management positions and become directors of rehabilitation.
Many individuals choose to start out as OTAs because it allows them to get out into the workforce quickly, all while gaining some valuable experience. Many OT schools have waiting lists for their programs, so sometimes individuals may need to wait to get in. The experience that they gain as an OTA is really valuable, especially for those who plan on returning to school. Some schools have OTA to OT bridge programs, designed specifically for individuals who are already working as an OTA, and would like to earn a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT).