Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Career, Salary and Education Information

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    REQUIREMENTS: • Graduate of an associate-level or certificate-level occupational therapy program accredited by ACOTE® or predecessor

  • Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant - Therapy Management Corporation - Alexandria, LA

    We approach each day at TMC with enthusiasm, dedication and creativity. Our team members take pride in representing the “Committed to Service

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Top 3 Occupational Therapy Aide Jobs

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

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve 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. Activities described in plans range from teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair to 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 also 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 assistants hold about 33,000 jobs. Occupational therapy aides hold about 8,800 jobs.

The industries that employ the most occupational therapy assistants are as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 40%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 18
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Home healthcare services 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 5

The industries that employ the most occupational therapy aides are as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 36%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 15
Social assistance 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work primarily in occupational therapists’ offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet, setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, working with patients. Constant kneeling and stooping are part of the job, as is the need to sometimes 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. They also must be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Occupational Therapy Assistant and Aide Education and Training

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. There are more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a branch 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 have 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, as well as certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS), may be helpful in getting a job.

Important Qualities for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

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 be able to 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.

Flexibility. 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 type of therapy to use for achieving a patient’s goals.

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 be able to 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

Nearly all states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed or registered. 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.

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 assistants is $57,870. 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 $38,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,080.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides is $27,800. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,950.

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

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $63,500
Home health care services 63,260
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 58,840
Hospitals; state, local, and private 51,950
Educational services; state, local, and private 46,790

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 $30,580
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 30,400
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28,840
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 24,900
Social assistance 24,530

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 43 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to grow 31 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 2,700 new jobs over the 10-year period.

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.

In addition, demand for occupational therapy assistants is likely to stem from healthcare providers (especially long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes) employing more 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.

Demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. Both rehabilitation and habilitation services are included among essential health benefits to be covered by insurers; however, coverage may vary by state. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help therapists treat additional patients and to ensure that treatment facility operations run smoothly.

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Job Prospects

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, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Occupational therapy assistants and aides 41,900 58,700 40 16,800
  Occupational therapy assistants 33,000 47,100 43 14,100
  Occupational therapy aides 8,800 11,600 31 2,700


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

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