Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational Therapy Assistant
Occupational Therapy Assistant: A Quick Look
Median Salary $51,010 per annum
Entry-level education Associate’s degree
On-the-job training No
Primary employers Health practitioners
Number of positions (U.S.) 28,500
Job Growth (2010-2020) 43% (Excellent)
New positions (2010-2020) +12,300

occupational-therapist-assistantWhat Does An Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) are licensed personnel who help minimize individuals’ functional impairments while maximizing their health and well-being. They work under the supervision of a registered occupational therapist. Read more.


The median occupational therapy assistant salary in May 2012 was $51,010 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Read more.

Becoming An Occupational Therapy Assistant

Unlike occupational therapy aides, OTAs must earn an associate’s degree and get licensed to work in the field. Read more.

An updated list of accredited schools can be found at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website.

Job Outlook

Together, the aging of the American population and the downsizing of cost-intensive healthcare services are driving impressive growth among occupational therapist assistants. The profession is expected to expand by 43 percent by 2020. Read more.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median occupational therapy assistant salary was approximately $51,000 a year in 2012. The highest-paid OT assistants earned more than $73,000 a year. There are several high-paying regions in the U.S., including the West Coast and several states on the East Coast. OTAs may work full-time, part-time or ‘PRN’–as needed. OTAs employed in education work based on school calendars, usually a certain number of months of the year.

How To Become An Occupational Therapy Assistant

To become an occupational therapy assistant, students must set aside 2 years to earn an associate's degree. Programs must be accredited and include a state-specified period of time in a clinical setting. Following graduation, students are eligible to take the certification test administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Successfully passing the exam serves as verification of having earned the required education to become an occupational therapy assistant. Successful applicants are able to use the title, Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). Additional state licensing is the next step for most new OTAs. How long does it take to become an occupational therapy assistant? It takes 2 years to complete an associate's program in Occupational Therapy Assistant Studies.

Educational Requirements

OTAs must complete a full course of occupational therapy education at the associate's level, including a minimum number of hours spent in a clinical practicum engaging in hands-on learning. This supervised field experience is frequently required by states, too, alongside continuing education credits. Programs should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). At any point during their education, prospective OTAs may be subject to background and vaccination checks, among other screenings typically required of healthcare workers. Some occupational therapy assistants end up deciding they want to become full occupational therapists with the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT). To that end, there are programs that ‘bridge’ the OTA and MOT educational pathways, combining undergraduate and graduate programs into a single accelerated curriculum.


Some occupational therapy assistants don't have to become certified, but most do because it confers substantial competitive advantage as a job applicant. OTAs are certified with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). NBCOT issues the COTA—Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant—credential recognized by employers. To earn the professional title, applicants for certification must successfully pass the national exam and submit proof of an accredited education, including fieldwork.


According to the AOTA, almost all states require a license of both occupational therapists and their assistants; those that don't instead have registration or certification requirements. Licensure prerequisites include graduation from an accredited educational program with fieldwork, and successful passage of the NBCOT certification examination. Each state defines OTAs' scope of practice with their own rules. It is crucial that interested individuals confirm the practice parameters and licensure requirements set by states before enrolling in school.

Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Description

What is an occupational therapy assistant? Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, are caregiver professionals who have been trained to help occupational therapists carry out rehabilitative interventions. These interventions focus on helping people recover from illness and injury, adapt to developmental difficulties and aging, and generally become capable of carrying out the activities of daily living, or “ADLs.” Occupational therapy is set to ride the expanding wave of employment in the eldercare sector. The OTA position is one of the fastest growing fields in the country. Unlike physical therapy, occupational therapy addresses the whole person from a functional perspective, with the aim of helping people live normal, healthy lives. OTAs work in many different kinds of settings, especially in education and healthcare. The largest single group of occupational therapy assistants works in private physicians' offices; the highest-paid works in home healthcare services. Other common settings include schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Occupational therapist assistants are more educated than occupational therapy aides, but less so than the occupational therapist who supervises the OT team. The paycheck in this profession is attractive, but the work is rigorous, requiring at times exposure to serious illness and disorders. There's plenty of heavy lifting and diaper-changing in some settings, notably geriatric care. Job duties can be emotionally and physically challenging.


The occupational therapy assistant job description varies by work setting and patient population. On a given shift, an OTA may:
  • Administer standardized and psychometric tests
  • Help OTs develop intervention plans
  • Present diagnoses and recommendations
  • Assist with ADLs, such as grooming, hygiene, medicating and meals
  • Write evaluation reports
  • Perform physical exams
  • Administer supervised, age-appropriate therapeutic interventions
  • Collaborate with other professionals for multidisciplinary care
  • Record and observe progress
  • Discuss care plans with families
  • Maintain sanitary facilities
  • Assist with administrative tasks
  • Supervise and train OT aides

Job Outlook

In 2010 there were 28,500 Occupational Therapy Assistants employed in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 50,800 jobs for OTAs in 2020. The outlook for OTAs is very good; the U.S. government expects a 43 percent jump in jobs over the next 7 years. These trends track the aging of the baby-boomer generation. Sweeping demographic changes are spurring the demand for quality-of-life services that enable individuals to live normally, despite chronic illness and the effects of aging.

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