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How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant – Career Sidekick

Occupational Therapy Assistant 5 Steps to Career

1. Enroll in an Accredited OTA Program

The first step in becoming an occupational therapy assistant is to complete an accredited OTA program and earn an associate’s degree. This program will teach you the skills and knowledge you need to work as an occupational therapy assistant, such as anatomy, physiology, psychology, and occupational therapy theory and practice.

  • Duration: Most accredited associate degree programs in occupational therapy assistant take about two years to complete.
  • Cost: The cost of an OTA associate’s degree program is determined by factors such as the type of institution (public or private), location, length of the program, and any additional fees or expenses included in the tuition. However, the average cost for the program typically falls between $5,000 and $24,000.

Can I become an Occupational Therapy Assistant through online education?

Yes, you can become an occupational therapy assistant through online education, but it’s essential to recognize that the path will include some in-person components as well.

While many schools offer online coursework for the theoretical part of the program, OTA education also requires hands-on practice and fieldwork. This practical experience is crucial in developing the skills needed to work with patients effectively, and it must be completed in person under the supervision of licensed occupational therapists.

When considering an online OTA program, make sure it is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) or a similar accrediting body. Accredited programs will meet the standards required for licensure and certification, and they will include provisions for completing the necessary in-person fieldwork.

In summary, you can complete a significant portion of your OTA education online, but you will still need to fulfill in-person clinical and fieldwork requirements. Always ensure the program you choose is accredited and meets the requirements for licensure in your state.

2. Gain Fieldwork Experience

As part of the accredited program, students must complete supervised fieldwork. This hands-on experience allows students to apply what they’ve learned in a real-world setting.

What are internship opportunities for an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

Occupational therapy assistants can find internship opportunities in various settings, including clinical environments like hospitals and rehab centers; educational institutions working with special needs children; specialized pediatric and mental health facilities; home health agencies; geriatric care facilities; hand therapy centers; and specialized clinics focusing on specific conditions such as sensory integration or autism. However, the availability of these internships may vary based on the program and location.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Occupational Therapy Assistant?

As an occupational therapy assistant, you will acquire a diverse set of skills that are essential for providing high-quality care and support to clients. Some of the key skills you will learn include:

  • Therapeutic Techniques: Various therapeutic techniques and interventions to help clients improve their physical, cognitive, and emotional abilities. This includes activities to enhance fine and gross motor skills, sensory integration techniques, and cognitive training exercises.
  • Assessment and Evaluation: Conduct assessments and evaluations to determine clients’ strengths, challenges, and functional abilities. These assessments guide treatment planning and help monitor clients’ progress.
  • Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology: Trained to recommend and use adaptive equipment and assistive technology that can aid clients in performing daily activities and tasks independently.
  • Activity Analysis: Analyze activities and tasks to identify the specific skills and components required. This skill helps in creating meaningful and purposeful interventions for clients.
  • Crisis Intervention and Coping Strategies: Trained to handle crisis situations and provide coping strategies for clients dealing with emotional or behavioral challenges.
  • Occupational Safety: Learn about safety protocols and techniques to ensure a safe environment for both clients and themselves during therapy sessions.
  • Documentation and Record Keeping: Maintain accurate and comprehensive documentation of client sessions, progress reports, and treatment plans.
  • Communication Skills: Effective communication is vital in an occupational therapy assistant’s role to interact with clients, their families, and the interdisciplinary team to ensure coordinated care.

3. Obtain NBCOT Certification

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) administers the exam that all occupational therapy assistants must pass in order to be certified. The exam covers a wide range of topics, including:

    • Principles of occupational therapy.
    • Assessment and evaluation.
    • Intervention planning and implementation.
    • Documentation and reporting.
  • Duration: The NBCOT exam is offered three times per year, and most people take it within a few months of completing their degree program.
  • Cost: The cost of the NBCOT COTA certification depends on whether you opt for the paper format or the online format.  For the paper format, the fee is $540, while online exams cost $500. Candidates can take the exams multiple times until they pass. However, if unsuccessful, a 45-day waiting period applies before a retake is allowed.

If you do pass the exam, your NBCOT COTA certification is initially granted for a four-year period, after which you would be required to renew it every three years.

4. Obtain State Licensure

In order to practice as an occupational therapy assistant, you must also obtain a license from your state. The requirements for licensure vary from state to state, so you will need to check with your state’s occupational therapy board to learn more.

  • Duration: The requirements for state licensure vary from state to state, but most states require occupational therapy assistants to have a minimum of two years of experience working under the supervision of an occupational therapist.
  • Cost: The cost of obtaining a state license to practice as an occupational therapy assistant can vary depending on the state. However, it typically ranges between US$30 and US$250. In addition to the license fee, you may also need to pay for the cost of fingerprinting and background checks.

Without an occupational therapy assistant certification and your state license, you will be unable to practice, regardless of the skills you have. After years of working in the field, you can apply for specialty certifications to help you rise up the ranks even faster.

5. Continuing Education and Professional Development

You can position yourself for career advancement and long-term success as an occupational therapy assistant if you take the following steps:

  • Continuing Education: Pursue additional certifications, workshops, or advanced courses to expand your knowledge and skills in specific areas of occupational therapy. Also, stay informed about the latest trends by reading research papers and attending conferences.
  • Specialization: Consider specializing in a particular field of occupational therapy, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, hand therapy, or mental health. Specializations can open up new career opportunities and increase your earning potential.
  • Networking: Build professional relationships with colleagues, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals. Networking can lead to job referrals, mentorship opportunities, and valuable insights into the industry.
  • Volunteering: Seek volunteer experiences in various healthcare settings to gain exposure to different specialties and enhance your resume.
  • Professional Associations: Join relevant professional associations for occupational therapy assistants. These associations provide access to resources, conferences, and networking opportunities.

Useful web resources for  Occupational Therapy Assistants

There are many web resources available to supplement your knowledge about occupational therapy. Here are a few of the most valuable.

  • This website provides continuing education courses and webinars for OTAs and other healthcare professionals.
  • Occupational Therapy Blogs: Explore various occupational therapy blogs authored by experienced occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants, such as My OT Spot for valuable insights and learning opportunities.
  • Chicago Occupational Therapy: Offers a dedicated section of occupational therapy resources across a broad scope.
  • OT Potential: A blog and community offering occupational therapy resources, including reviews of recent research, tools for clinicians, and forums for professional discussions.
  • Podcasts: Listening to podcasts focused on occupational therapy can be a great way to stay updated with industry insights and trends. Examples include Seniors Flourish and OT School House.

By engaging with these resources, you can continue to grow in your profession, stay informed about the latest research and trends, and connect with fellow professionals in the field.


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