If you want to have a career where you can help individuals and even perform one-on-one care for patients, you may want to consider getting into occupational therapy. You’ll have the opportunity to help people regain the ability to live their life normally after an injury or illness without having to attend an extensive amount of training.
What an Occupational Therapy Assistant Does
An occupational therapy assistant executes the care plan devised by the occupational therapist. The assistant’s job is to help individuals reach the point where they can live their life as close as possible to how they used to before their injury or medical condition. Occupational therapist assistants aid people in learning or relearning simple tasks, like how get dressed or brush their teeth, as well as more complex things going back to work and performing their job.
Occupational therapy assistants help people who suffer from injuries from an accident or a serious medical emergency like a stroke. Additionally, occupational therapists also work with people who have acute or chronic conditions that inhibit them from caring for themselves.
Sometimes, the occupational therapy assistant just assists a person living life as normally as possible after an injury. For instance, if a person has to live life wheelchair-bound after a stroke, the occupational therapist teaches the person to maneuver the wheelchair. Basically, the physical therapy assistant’s job is to help patients live as independently as possible based on their condition and prognosis.
Occupational therapy assistants may work as well with children who have developmental disabilities.
What Responsibilities Do Physical Therapy Assistants Have
Occupational therapy assistants adhere to the occupational therapist’s plan. They report and document the patient’s progress to share with the occupational therapist to ensure a patient’s plan progresses at a speed comfortable for them.
The occupational therapy assistant helps patients perform stretches and other exercises to help them heal and regain or develop skills. For instance, as an occupational therapy assistant, you may guide patients through exercises that improve balance, coordination, flexion, and range of motion.
Occupational therapy assistants may encourage those with mental handicaps to develop socialization skills by requesting they perform certain tasks and participate in certain activities. You may aid patients in learning the skills necessary to go out into, or re-enter, the workforce.
If you become an occupational therapy assistant, you will teach people how to use equipment the occupational therapist prescribes. You might also have administrative duties, such as reporting patients’ progress and documenting what you've done.
You may even need to transport patients, help them with billing and insurance issues, schedule appointments for them, or sterilize their equipment.
Certification for Occupational Therapy Assistants
Every state in the United States regulates occupational therapy assistants. A majority of people must obtain some type of license and fulfill other obligations before practicing as an occupational therapy assistant.
For instance, in New York, you must possess a license to practice. The licensure for an assistant costs $147, but the fee is subject to change, as noted on their website. Before you can apply for the license, you must possess at least an associate’s degree in occupational therapy.
In Connecticut, you must obtain the proper licensure, but before you do, you must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT)’s exam.
In addition to passing the national certification exam, you must partake in two months of supervised fieldwork to obtain your licensure in the state of Washington. You’ll also have to complete an online exam.
Once you obtain your initial license, you have to continuously renew your license to keep it current in order to keep practicing. How often you need to renew depends on your state’s law.
In many states, you need to take continuing education credits to keep your knowledge up-to-date.
You might need to take specialized courses to get certified in certain aspects of practicing as an occupational therapy assistant, which can sometimes heighten your occupational therapy assistant salary.
Who Makes a Good Occupational Therapy Assistant
First and foremost, to be a good occupational therapy assistant, you need to have flexibility. Each day isn’t going to be the same, and you often have to change your initial plans based on your patients’ desires, progress, and needs. You have to keep in mind that each one of your patients is different and requires a different approach.
Since you spend a majority of your day interacting with people including your patients and their families, you need to have social skills. For example, you have to possess strong communication skills and know how to work well with others.
Compassion is a huge part of this career. You work with patients who are struggling to live their life normally, and they need someone who empathizes and treats them with respect. The patients want someone who genuinely wants to see them heal and live life as normally as possible.
You must also have strength because you must physically help patients. You also need to bend and stand for prolonged periods of time.
Where Do Physical Therapy Assistants Usually Work
As of 2016, occupational therapy assistants held around 39,300 jobs. A majority of these jobs were in offices of therapists, including speech, physical, and occupational therapists.
Some of these individuals worked in nursing care facilities, hospitals, or in homes. It’s possible for a physical therapy assistant to work in state, local, or private educational facilities.
How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistance
To see exactly what it’s like to work with people, you may want to volunteer or find a job you can do in the healthcare field, such as working as an aide. It gives you a feel for what working with patients is like, and it also benefits you when you’re trying to get into college.
Then, you need to attend an associate’s degree program for occupational therapy. Typically, an associate’s degree program lasts two years, but sometimes, you can complete the program sooner. During your time in the program, you learn about subjects like psychology, anatomy, physiology, and biology.
After you complete your associate’s degree, you must complete a minimum of 16 weeks experience actually working in the field. From the hands-on experience, you learn what it’s like to actually be on the job. Additionally, you will also learn skills that you can only gain from working with patients.
Average Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
A majority of individuals who work in this field hold full-time positions, and all of the occupational therapy assistant salary statistics are based on a full-time wage.
Median Annual Wage
The median hourly wage for occupational therapy assistants was $27.25 as of May 2017. This rate is the same as approximately $59,310 per year. The highest occupational therapy assistant salary exceeded $80,000.
Top Paying Jobs
According to statistics provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), individuals who work in nursing care centers such as skilled care facilities make an average $65,920, making it one of the higher-paying locations for occupational therapy assistants. Additionally, home healthcare services that hire occupational therapy assistants pay well, with the average home healthcare service paying their assistants about $65,540.
States with the Highest Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
Texas ranks as the state with the most job opportunities for occupational therapy assistants, as well as the highest occupational therapy assistant salary. In fact, the average person in this field made an average of $35.00 per hour, which is the same as $72,800. In addition, the state had the highest employment level, with 4,040 people in this field as of 2017.
Meanwhile, Ohio ranked as the state with the most job opportunities in this field, with 3,480 job openings as of 2017. Pennsylvania, Florida, and New York also have plenty of job opportunities for occupational therapy assistants.
New Jersey is the state with the second-highest average occupational therapy assistant salary. People in this state who hold a position in this state make an average of $33.36 per hour or $69,390. Nevada, Virginia, and Maryland are high paying states for people who choose this career path as well.
Job Outlook for Occupational Therapy Assistants
Like nearly all jobs in the medical field, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an increase in the number of positions for occupational therapy assistants. In fact, the BLS forecasts a 29-percent growth from 2016 until 2026. This growth rate is much faster than most jobs.
The reason for the increase is primarily due to the increase in the elderly as the result of the baby boomers aging. As people age, they're more prone to conditions and medical emergencies, including strokes and arthritis. It also appears that the number of children with developmental issues like autism is growing, so more assistants will be needed to meet this increased demand.
Working as an occupational therapy assistant is a rewarding career where you get to work one-on-one with patients to improve their condition and lives in general. Fortunately, you have quite a great deal of earning potential when you work in this field.