So, you are a COTA thinking about advancing your education and career by becoming an Occupational Therapist (OTR)? There are a number of programs that you can choose from that will help you to accomplish this goal.
This page has everything you need to know about OTA to OT bridge programs, as well as a current database of available OTA bridge programs by state.
Just click any topic below to jump directly to that section:
Comparing COTA to OTR – The Major Differences
COTAs may seek OTA to OT bridge programs for a number of personal and/or professional reasons.
Some people become Certified Occupational Therapist Assistants (COTA) as a stepping stone to becoming a Registered Occupational Therapist (OTR).
Other COTAs work alongside OTRs that inspire and convince them to take the next step in their career.
Before deciding which career path is best for you, take a moment to fully understand the major distinctions between the two professions.
Major Distinctions between COTA & OTR
The major differences between them are in the educational requirements, the level of patient interaction, required fieldwork/clinical experience, and average annual salaries.
OTA requires associates degrees taking approximately 2 years to complete while OTR requires a 4-year masters degree (MOT).
OTRs focus on developing therapy plans based on patient’s diagnosis and needs while the COTAs aid and support the OTR in carrying out the therapy plans.
While OTRs create and execute therapy plans, COTAs are only able to learn and observe under the supervision of OTRs. OTA bridge programs will require the COTA to complete additional fieldwork, the amount of hours will vary by program and previous experience.
COTAs are paid well at an average annual salary of $57,870 according to the BLS but OTRs earn even more at approximately $80,150 on average.
Differing Responsibilities between COTA & OTR
Additionally, here are the major differences between the responsibilities of an OTR versus a COTA.
- Complete patient assessments
- Develop the patient’s treatment plan and targets
- Track progress weekly and log notes
- Finalize discharges
- Offer treatments for patients
- Adhere to the OTR’s plan of care
- Execute treatments (interventions) aligned with the goals of the OTR
- Does not finalize or complete evaluation/discharge paperwork
- Keep daily logs detailing what you work on with patients and everything that went into the treatment
Both careers are extremely rewarding, US News ranks jobs based on professional feedback and gave OTRs a rank of #18 for best healthcare job, while COTAs achieved a #1 ranking for best health care support jobs.
There is a growing need for more OTA bridge programs, with 17 currently available.
These programs ensure that OT licensure will be obtained in the most effective and streamlined approach. OTA bridge programs accomplish this by offering an educational curriculum that is exclusively tailored for employed OTAs working full or part time.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
It isn’t uncommon for many OTRs to begin their careers at COTAs since the OT license requires considerable experience in the field. Additional requirements for COTAs to become OTRs are:
- Bachelors and masters degrees required (COTA only requires 2 year associates degree)
- Additional fieldwork hours (This will vary by program and prior experience of COTA)
- Passing the NBCOT OTR Exam (After completing your bachelors/masters you must pass this national exam)
The NBCOT OTR exam (National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy Exam) must be completed and passed by prospective OTRs once they have completed their educational and fieldwork requirements. Download our free NBCOT exam prep guide here with free practice exam questions, a study calendar and more.
Search & Compare OTA Bridge Programs
Occupational Therapist Assistants interested in becoming OTRs often times have completed some of the courses needed for their OT requirements. This is great and helps expedite the master’s program by applying these credits. Additionally, past fieldwork can typically be attributed as well but doesn’t cover 100% of the required fieldwork.
See OTA Bridge Programs by State
OTA to OT bridge programs were specifically designed for adults who are working and can’t devote full time to school. It is common for bridge programs to offer working OTAs the following options for earning their OT degree:
- distance or online classes
- local classes
- weekend and night classes
Not all OTA bridge programs are the same and requirements vary so it is important to review each program to see which one will best utilize your past experience in school and fieldwork. This is key to ensure that your financial and time investment is minimized.
One example of differing program requirements is the bachelor’s degree. Some programs require the OTA to complete their bachelor’s before earning their OT masters while other programs only require the 2-year associates + additional courses that allow entry into the OTR masters program.
Generally speaking, OTA bridge programs will take 2-3 years and consist of online learning, in-class lecture, and clinical fieldwork. It is best to reach out to advisors of each OTA bridge program to gain a complete understanding of how your education and career experience will be utilized towards obtaining your OTR education and license.
Advice for Completing Bridge Programs
Without a doubt, working while going back to school is not easy and will require motivation. Follow this advice to achieve your goal of becoming an OTR while keeping a healthy balance in your life.
Make Goals that are Realistic
OTA bridge programs are designed for working individuals and thus generally take 3 years. Don’t set a goal to complete the program quicker, trying to rush these programs will increase your stress and decrease your chances of succeeding.
Know your schedule and if you need to lighten your course load at times when your family or job need more of your time then don’t hesitate to slow down your studies a little. Additionally, know when you need to study for an exam and don’t be afraid to take a half day at work to prepare and make sure you pass that exam.
Burning out is a major concern when entering an OTA bridge program, so being pro-active with managing your time spent on education, family, and work is essential to continuing your education.
Get support from friends, family, and colleagues
Don’t be afraid to use your support system to help you maintain balance. Spouses, parents, neighbors, friends, colleagues are all people that you can talk to about your endeavors and get verbal support and more from. You’d be surprised at who will bring you a warm meal when they find out you are studying all night and taking weekend classes on top of working full time.
Depending on your situation, you may even need to enlist some additional help to free up more of your time. Things like hiring a maid to help around the house, or a nanny to help with your kids may give you extra hours each day to study and attend lectures. Here are a few tasks you may want to get help with:
- grocery shopping and laundry
- pool maintenance and landscaping/lawn-care
- Housework, cleaning, etc
Remember that your support system, as well as any enlisted help, are necessary during your time in school but they won’t be required forever.
Communication with your manager
It is best to keep communication open with your manager, they need to know that you are attending school and your intention in becoming an OTR. Oftentimes they will be supportive and do their best to help you.
It is best to always inform your manager of important test dates, fieldwork requirements you need to complete, or any other responsibilities that may affect your work schedule. It is important not to treat your educational goals as more important than your current job, however, your endeavors will improve your abilities at your job and should be discussed.
Most managers will be supportive of your goals and offer flexibility when possible.
Set aside time to rest and recharge
Setting time aside, even 15 minutes, to take a break and rest your mind may seem impossible while working and attending a bridge program. It is wise to take time at the beginning to create a schedule that includes at least one fifteen to twenty-minute break each day, otherwise, you may get too wrapped up in your studies and miss much-needed rest.
It has been proven through research that breaks are essential to helping you fully retain the information you study and better manage your time. So, taking the time to rest will make you more efficient and effective when studying. It doesn’t matter exactly when or how much time you take to rest.
It just matters that you create the habit of taking short breaks to rest. To make the most of these rest breaks, try the following: read, listen to favorite relaxing songs, or just be still and quiet while focusing on your breathing and reflecting on your progress so far.
Establishing your “groove”
No doubt you will be spending a lot of time studying and learning new topics. So, it will be essential to find a comfortable and quiet study area.
For some, this means one space you return to and for others, you may want to mix up a few locations to avoid burnout, each student is different and must find their personal study groove.
OTA bridge programs offer a nice variety of material to students through a combination of self-driven reading, studying, and problem-solving activities alongside lectures in class and hands-on fieldwork.
Again, everyone has their own groove, some students will get enough variety through the program that one consistent study schedule and area is all they need while others may need to get out and study at coffee shops and local libraries to avoid burnout.
Study groups are helpful at times for better understanding certain types of information. Some students get more from groups than others though, so don’t waste your time with groups if you are more productive studying alone. It is worth trying both studying alone and in groups a couple of times so that you can determine the best study method for you personally.
FAQ on OTA Bridge Programs
What type of degree do I get from an OTA bridge program?
- You will earn your bachelor’s and masters (MOT) degrees upon successful completion of an OTA bridge program.
Do I have to complete additional fieldwork / clinical hours to become an OTR through a bridge program?
- Yes, you will need to complete additional clinical fieldwork hours as a part of your OTA to OTR bridge program.
Will I have to take and pass the NBCOT OTR Exam after I complete the bridge program to become an OTR?
- Yes, once you complete your OTA bridge program you will need to pass the NBCOT OTR Exam in order to obtain your OTR license.
OTA bridge programs are a great option for COTA to maximize their education, time, and financial investment in their career while working towards becoming an OTR.
Using the advice, FAQs, and tips on this page will help to ensure not only your success but a more enjoyable experience furthering your education.
As a recap, here is the most important advice for succeeding in your OTA bridge program:
- Be realistic with goals
- Don’t be afraid to get support from spouses, family, friends, and even hiring help
- Keep open communication with your manager
- Set aside time in your schedule to rest
- Learn your most efficient study method and find your “groove”