When choosing a school for an occupational therapy program, you have to consider all the different factors that go into the profession. Making sure that you have what it takes to do the job is the most important thing to consider before starting any program. That’s why we have created a list of the nine things you should consider before signing up with any OTA schools.
1. What Does an Occupational Therapist Assistant Do?
As an occupational therapist assistant, you will work closely with the head occupational therapist in providing patient care. It will be your job to help plan a therapy schedule for patients with mental and physical disabilities to help them become more independent. You cannot develop a plan on your own, but it is your job to support all plans put in place by the therapist and document how the patient is responding to each session.
You must encourage patients to overcome obstacles in their lives to help them become more self-sufficient. This job requires good bookkeeping for billing and insurance purposes, too. You must also keep well-organized records to note patient progress or lack thereof for multiple sessions to see if changes need to be made to the treatment schedule.
2. Is the Occupational Therapist Assistant Job in Demand?
Occupational therapist assistant positions are on the rise, and the job outlook is estimated to increase at least 32% in the next ten years, which is a much faster rate than average. There will be jobs available for years to come as there will always be people who need assistance.
Occupational therapy assistants are needed across the US. If you’re an OTA, then you will not have to worry about having a career, no matter where you live or choose to relocate.
Does It Offer a Good Salary?
The average hourly wage for an OTA is $29.75 which is about $61,500 annually. For most people, this salary is enough to live comfortably and pay the bills.
3. How Much Schooling Does it Require?
Most occupational therapy assistants will need an associate’s degree. These are two-year programs with classroom courses based around anatomy, medical terminology, psychology, etc. After successful completion of the coursework, you will then complete an average of eight weeks of off-campus hands-on clinical experience working directly with patients in a health care facility under the supervision of an experienced and registered occupational therapist. This type of occupational therapy assistant program allows you to apply what you’re learned and helps acclimate you into the workforce.
Once you have completed the program, you have to take the NBCOT or National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy certification exam. In the United States, everyone must take and pass the NBCOT exam to work as an OTA by law.
After you have completed school and received NBCOT certification, you are still not finished. Next, you are required to take a state exam for the state you’re planning to work in. Each state in the US has its own licensing exams that you must complete before you can start working independently. Depending on the state you are practicing in, you may also need to take a certain amount of continuing education hours for yearly or bi-yearly recertification.
4. Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy
What is the difference between working in occupational therapy and working in physical therapy? The two fields are closely linked and often work together to help patients, but they are two very different specialties.
Physical therapy helps people recover from an illness or injury by reteaching them to do things like walking after an accident, gaining strength in muscles after wearing a cast, or stretching their muscles after surgery. Physical therapy is based on movement.
Occupational therapy has no recovery goal. The plans created for patients receiving occupational therapy help them identify their disabilities and work toward living successfully with them, day to day. Occupational therapy includes many things, like relearning how to feed yourself after having a stroke or getting around the house after losing a limb. Occupational therapy works toward functioning as normally as possible in daily life.
5. OTA vs OT
Now that you are working as an occupational therapy assistant, you will find that you do a lot of the leg work compared to the occupational therapist you are working under. So, what does the OT do?
Besides needing more schooling and making more money, other ways being an OT differs from being an OTA. When you become a licensed practicing OF, you are in charge of creating health care plans and putting together therapy schedules for each of your patients. It is up to the OT to decide if the patient is responding well to the current treatment or if the plan needs to be changed.
OTs also supervise OTAs when needed to ensure that all tasks are being completed as needed and correctly. You will contribute to making decisions about whether a patient needs OT services and when therapy can stop.
6. Where Can You Work
As an occupational therapist assistant, you are a good fit for many positions in almost every health care setting. The largest settings for this profession are hospitals and nursing homes, but many are utilized in private practices, patients’ homes, and schools.
When working as an occupational therapist assistant in a hospital setting, you will most likely work with patients who are learning to adjust to life after suffering from a stroke or amputees who have to learn a new way of life.
When working in a nursing home facility, OTAs work with elderly patients adjusting to memory loss or physical disabilities due to age.
If you are working as an OTA in a school setting, chances are you will help children with learning disabilities like dyslexia or ADHD.
7. Do You Have What it Takes?
Although the career is a rewarding one, being an OTA is not easy. You need to be strong both mentally and physically, not only for yourself but to help your patients.
As an OTA, you need to be able to lift heavy objects. When helping people in OF, you may have to assist them with gross movements or lift them out of bed or chairs. You may also be required to carry heavy equipment, like walkers or exercise equipment.
You also need to be able to move quickly when working in OT. You are on your feet most of the day and need to keep up with your patients to help them meet their goals.
An OTA must be compassionate and mentally tough. You will have hard days and tough patients. When someone is struggling to get a grip on something difficult, they can get upset or aggravated and you are the first person they take it out on. You cannot take it personally, and you have to keep pushing.
Another struggle you will experience is in working with other healthcare professionals, especially in intense situations. You may have to deal with superiors overruling you or putting you into positions you aren’t comfortable with, and you must be able to remove yourself from the moment and understand it’s not personal.
8. Foot in the Door of Health Care
If you are looking to start a career in healthcare, this is a great place to start. You can work in any health care facility and have the ability to feel out which areas you are interested in and if you want to continue your education in another field.
This career is also a great way to start working in the occupational therapy field while you are still working toward becoming an occupational therapist. In doing this, you get the education you need and a few years of hands-on experience.
9. Communication is Key
You must possess excellent communication skills to be a successful occupational therapy assistant. Not only are you working in direct contact with patients all day long, but you are also the middle man for patients and their occupational therapist. You must be able to communicate professionally and confidently when talking with patients, no matter what their mood or temperament may be that day, and you must be capable of holding your emotions.
It is also essential to take thorough notes about your patients’ progress to properly communicate with the OT about any changes that need to be made. Giving them up-to-date and accurate information is key to the patient’s success in the program. If you do not have good communication skills, you will not help every patient as best as you can.
What Should You Look For in an Occupational Therapy Assistant School?
If you have gone through all the information above and you are still interested in becoming an OTA, it is time to consider what is important in a school program.
- Accreditation- Make sure the schools you are looking into are accredited and that the degree you earn is accepted in your state.
- Affordable- Find a school that has affordable tuition rates or offers scholarships or grants so you are not burdened with a large debt when you leave school.
- Hands-On – Nothing prepares you for a career in health care like being hands-on in a health care setting. Most schools will have you complete “fieldwork” before you graduate.
- Small Classes- We find it is better to lean in smaller classes so that student/ teacher relationships are closer and the school experience is more personal.
- Post Graduate Resources- Schools that help with testing, certification prep, licensing prep, and job placement can help make the transition from learning to career much easier.
What Types of Classes Will You Have to Take?
You will be required to take some basic classes when you first begin school to cover your general education before moving into healthcare-related classes, labs, and hands-on projects. Some prerequisite classes can include general anatomy, physiology and labs, medical terminology, and general psychology Liberal arts and science classes include health care ethics, reflective life, and human ecology.
Other forms of learning you do are field learning and fieldwork experience after you have completed your coursework. Most schools have their students take eight weeks of hands-on learning in a healthcare facility working with professionals in an OT setting.
How Much Does OTA School Cost?
Depending on which state you live in and what program you choose, an OTA program can cost anywhere between $5,000 to $24,000. The average is around $10,000. That said, you also have to factor in the cost of books and living expenses. You can get help paying for school through financial aid, scholarships, and student loans.
After you complete school, then you have to take and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy or NBCOT exam which costs about $500.00. To get state licensure, you have to take a state certification, which usually has a fee of around $150.00. The state license and exam amount vary from state to state, but it needs to be completed before you can work anywhere.
Finally, you have to renew your license every few years by taking at least 30 hours of continuing education courses and a fee of around $114, though these things may vary from state to state.
Deciding to take the first steps towards a new career is a big deal. There are many things to consider when trying to figure out your future. If you want to become an occupational therapist assistant, you are choosing a rewarding and amazing career. A lot goes into working in this field, including education, emotional and physical stress, and the practical aspects, like renewing your license and keeping up with current research. If you can juggle a demanding career working toward giving a better life to every person you work with, this is the job for you.