Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Career, Salary and Education Information

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Top 3 Occupational Therapy Assistant Jobs

  • Occupational Therapy Assistant Instructor - Pima Medical Institute - Las Vegas, NV

    Plan instruction to achieve specific objectives based upon student need and established curriculum. Monitor the attendance of students in the program

  • Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant - Phyt Rehab - Spokane, WA

    Phyt Rehab is a national full service rehabilitation management organization led by a team of TOP rehabilitation therapists. We are looking for a

  • Occupational Therapy Assistant / COTA - Advanced Medical - Washington, DC

    This COTA job will require the applicant to participate in an interdisciplinary team and

See all Occupational Therapy Assistant jobs

Top 3 Occupational Therapy Aide Jobs

See all Occupational Therapy Aide jobs

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do[About this section] [To Top]

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Duties of Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants typically do the following:

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment—for example, showing a patient with Parkinson's disease how to use devices that make eating easier
  • Record patients' progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks

Occupational therapy aides typically do the following:

  • Prepare treatment areas, such as setting up therapy equipment
  • Transport patients
  • Clean treatment areas and equipment
  • Help patients with billing and insurance forms
  • Perform clerical tasks, including scheduling appointments and answering telephones

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan for each patient. Plans include diverse activities such as teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair and advising patients on the best way to stretch their muscles. For example, an occupational therapy assistant might work with injured workers to help them get back into the workforce by teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Occupational therapy assistants also may work with people who have learning disabilities, teaching them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure that patients are doing them correctly. They record the patient's progress and provide feedback to the occupational therapist so that the therapist can change the treatment plan if the patient is not getting the desired results.

Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment. They may assist patients with moving to and from treatment areas. After a therapy session, aides clean the treatment area, put away equipment, and gather laundry.

Occupational therapy aides fill out insurance forms and other paperwork and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and monitoring inventory levels.

Work Environment for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides[About this section] [To Top]

Occupational therapy aides hold about 7,500 jobs. The largest employers of occupational therapy aides are as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 38%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 27
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 11
Social assistance 5
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

Occupational therapy assistants hold about 39,300 jobs. The largest employers of occupational therapy assistants are as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 42%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 19
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Home healthcare services 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 5

Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet while setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, providing therapy to patients. Constant kneeling and stooping are part of the job, as is the occasional need to lift patients.

Occupational Therapy Assistant and Aide Work Schedules

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients' schedules.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides near you!

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate's degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapy aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained on the job.

Education and Training for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate's degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In 2017, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. In addition to taking coursework, occupational therapy assistants must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on work experience.

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health education. They also can increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist's office, or a physical therapist's office.

Occupational therapy aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. Training can last from several days to a few weeks and covers a number of topics, including the setting up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Previous work experience in healthcare may be helpful in getting a job.

Both occupational therapy assistants and aides often need certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS).

Important Qualities for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Adaptability. Assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best therapy to achieve a patient's goals.

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life's basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. In addition, aides must pay attention to detail when performing clerical tasks, such as helping a patient fill out an insurance form.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should communicate clearly with patients and with patients' families to the extent of their training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants, with most requiring licensure. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Some states have additional requirements.

Occupational therapy assistants must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title "Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant" (COTA). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specialty certifications for occupational therapy assistants who want to demonstrate their specialized level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in specialized areas of practice such as low vision or feeding, eating, and swallowing.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated by state law.

Advancement for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education and becoming occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist "bridge" education programs are designed to qualify occupational therapy assistants to advance and become therapists.

Occupational Therapy Assistant and Aide Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides is $28,330. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $20,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $51,180.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants is $59,010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,160, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,090.

The median annual wages for occupational therapy aides in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Educational services; state, local, and private $33,320
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 31,260
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28,880
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 25,460
Social assistance 25,340

The median annual wages for occupational therapy assistants in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Home healthcare services $66,430
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 64,710
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 59,600
Hospitals; state, local, and private 52,770
Educational services; state, local, and private 47,560

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients' schedules.

Job Outlook for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 29 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to grow 25 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,800 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help therapists treat additional patients and to ensure that treatment facility operations run smoothly. However, demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance.

Demand for occupational therapy is likely to grow over the coming decade in response to the health needs of the aging baby-boom generation and a growing elderly population. Older adults are more prone than younger people to conditions and ailments such as arthritis and stroke. These conditions can affect one's ability to perform a variety of everyday activities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help occupational therapists in caring for these patients. Occupational therapy will also continue to be used to treat children and young adults with developmental disabilities, such as autism.

Healthcare providers, especially those specializing in long-term care such as nursing homes and home healthcare services, will continue to employ assistants to reduce the cost of occupational therapy services. After the therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a treatment plan, the occupational therapy assistant can provide many aspects of the treatment that the therapist prescribed.

Job Prospects for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Occupational therapy assistants and aides with experience working in an occupational therapy office or other healthcare setting should have the best job opportunities. However, occupational therapy aides may face strong competition from the large pool of qualified people, because requirements for entry are low.

Employment projections data for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Occupational therapy assistants and aides 46,800 60,000 28 13,200
  Occupational therapy assistants 39,300 50,700 29 11,400
  Occupational therapy aides 7,500 9,300 25 1,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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