Occupational therapists help people suffering from injuries, illnesses, and disabilities learn to adapt and work through everyday activities. Frequently they hire occupational therapy assistants and aides to help them manage their caseloads and provide general support. If you enjoy working with people or are looking for a quick way to get into the occupational therapy field, becoming an assistant or aide to an occupational therapist is a good way to start.
Some of the duties occupation therapy assistants engage in include:
- Assist patients in completing their physical therapy
- Teach people how to use assistive equipment and machines
- Monitor, record, and report on patient progress
- Work on helping disabled children improve coordination through activity
- Assorted administrative tasks
Task for occupational therapy aides tend to center around administrative support such as:
- Fill out and submit insurance forms
- Schedule appointments
- Answer telephones
- Keep the treatment area clean and organized
- Setup therapy equipment and other materials
- Assist patients with getting to and from the treatment area
Both occupational therapy assistants and aides are supervised by a licensed occupational therapist. However, only occupational therapy assistants are allowed to work directly with patients because they are required to be licensed as well.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Training
The amount of education you need depends on the position you are applying for. Occupational therapy aides only need a high school diploma. Training is done on the job and can last for a few weeks to a couple of months depending on the trainer. Many people take jobs as an occupational therapy aide as the first step towards becoming an assistant or licensed therapist.
A minimum of an associate’s degree is required to obtain a job as an occupational therapy assistant. Accredited programs can be completed at community colleges, technical schools and online (click here to see a list of online schools). It takes about two years to earn this degree which can be used to advance to higher level educational programs that lead to advanced positions in the industry. High school students interested in this line of work can prepare by taking courses in health and biology. Working in a healthcare setting like a nursing home is also great preparation for this career path.
Most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed if they participate directly in patients’ treatments. Typically, you must graduate from an accredited program and pass a test administered by the state or an approved testing company. Additionally, continuing education is usually required to maintain the license. Although credentials are not necessary, occupational therapy assistants can test for various certifications to boost their resumes. These certifications are offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. More information about them can be found on the organization’s website.
Personal Qualities needed to Become a Occupational Therapy Assistant
Interpersonal skills: Like most jobs in the health care industry, you will be working with people from a variety of backgrounds and whose dispositions can change from day to day. In addition to being patient, compassionate and professional, you must also be a cheerleader that encourages patients to work through their disabilities.
Physical stamina: In addition to standing for long periods of time, you will need to push, pull or lift patients as well as kneel and stoop for long periods of time.
Detail oriented: Aides and assistants must accurately follow directions and pay close attention to issues regarding patient care and progress.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Duties
Occupational therapy assistants and aides are mostly employed by specialty therapy offices like speech therapy. Nursing care facilities are the second largest employers followed by general and surgical hospitals. An occupational therapy assistant or aide may also find employment at elementary and secondary schools and home health care centers.
While you work in a clean and fairly sterile environment, you do come in contact with a lot of patients which increases your exposure to communicable diseases. You can avoid infection by using appropriate safety equipment like disposable gloves. As noted before, occupational therapy assistants spend a lot of time standing, walking, bending, kneeling, and lifting. Occupational therapy aides also do some physical activity but spend most of the time working at a desk.
Assistants and aides work full time. Evening and weekend shifts are usually required to accommodate patients’ schedules.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
The average wage for occupational therapy assistants is $51,010 and for aides is $27,430. However, the exact amount earned varies depending on where you work:
Occupational therapy assistants:
- Home health care – $54,950
- Nursing care facilities – $54,460
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapy offices – $53,910
- Hospitals – $46,620
- Elementary and secondary schools – $42,700
- Top 10% – $70,790
- Bottom 10% – $33,110
Occupational therapy aides:
- Psychiatric and substance abuse centers – $28,510
- Nursing care facilities – $29,940
- Physical, occupational, and speech therapy offices – $26,850
- Hospitals – $27,810
- Elementary and secondary schools – $26,030
- Top 10% – $52,750
- Bottom 10% – $17,440
People in this occupation typically enjoy health insurance benefits, paid time off, and other perks.
The aging population is spurring the growth in all parts of the medical industry and occupational therapy assistant and aides is no exception. The number of jobs is expected to jump 43% for assistants and 33% for aides by 2020. Specialized therapy offices will continue to be the primary employers of people in this occupation. People with education and experience will experience the best job opportunities.