5 Big Advantages of Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant
Throughout every community, there are people who have difficulty with life's basic tasks. Some of them were born with disabilities, and others have limitations as a result of aging, injury, or illness. But they all deserve the chance to achieve greater independence and fuller enjoyment of their lives.
The numbers are striking. For example, roughly 15 percent of children in America between the ages of three and 17 have at least one developmental disability like autism or cerebral palsy. And about 20 percent of U.S. adults suffer from arthritis, which can make everyday physical activities difficult or even impossible.*
Of course, the full range of other challenges that can affect people's lives in this way is extensive. It includes everything from Alzheimer's disease to vision impairment to repetitive motion injuries to brain and spinal cord injuries to mental disorders.
That's why occupational therapy (OT) matters. This area of healthcare focuses on helping people develop or regain common abilities that are necessary for everyday learning, working, or living. And for those who provide that assistance, it is a field that can generate a lot of professional and personal benefits such as:
1. An Abundant Variety of Possible Job Settings and Career Opportunities
One of the great things about becoming a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) is that the field offers a lot of diversity. As a result, you can pursue the opportunities that most align with your particular interests.
For instance, consider that wherever occupational therapists are found, you're also likely to find assistants. That means, as a COTA, you might have the chance to work in:
- Occupational therapy offices
- Physical therapy clinics that offer OT services
- Nursing homes and other assisted-living environments
- Public or private schools at every level
- Private residences (as part of a home healthcare service)
- Social or community assistance agencies
- Mental health centers
Beyond the appealing range of job settings, this field also offers the potential to specialize in a particular area of practice. That way, you can work directly with the kinds of patients you most enjoy helping, whether they be children, seniors, or people suffering from particular conditions. (Here's a fun fact: Almost one-third of people with jobs in the OT field get to help children with issues related to their growing, playing, or learning.**)
Broadly speaking, the main areas of occupational therapy practice include:
- Pediatrics (i.e., helping children and youth)
- Gerontology (i.e., assisting older people as they age)
- Disabilities and physical rehabilitation
- Work-related injuries
- Mental health coping and recovery
- Chronic disease prevention and management
In addition, many occupational therapy assistants get the opportunity to earn certifications for specialties related to:
- Working with school-age children and young adults in educational settings
- Helping disabled people modify their homes or workplaces and adapt to using assistive technologies
- Assisting people who suffer from low-vision disorders
- Training certain disabled patients or their caregivers in how to perform feeding techniques or use adaptive equipment that allows them to eat and swallow food successfully
- Helping people with disabilities learn how to use adaptive technology that enables them to drive or learn new ways to get around their communities on foot, on bicycle, or by using public transit
2. An Outstanding Job Outlook
Several trends are contributing to the growing demand for occupational therapy assistants. For example, the number of elderly people in America is rising rapidly, and they are, increasingly, trying to stay active. Autism spectrum disorder is also on the rise among children, and more parents are seeking help for their kids as they learn about learning and developmental disabilities. Plus, the Affordable Care Act is enabling a lot more people to access health insurance that covers occupational therapy services.
The result is that employment in this vocation is expected to grow by 27 percent in America between 2014 and 2024.***
3. Excellent Compensation
High demand often results in good pay. In fact, the average salary for an occupational therapy assistant in the U.S. was $58,340 in 2015. But for COTAs in the home healthcare industry, the average was over $66,000. And the highest earners in this field made more than $78,080.**** In addition, many of the jobs in this vocational area come with good employer benefits like health insurance and paid vacation.
4. Relatively Little Time in School
Becoming an occupational therapy assistant usually requires no more than about two years of college-level education in a relevant associate's degree program. As part of that training, many occupational therapy assistant programs incorporate several weeks of real-world practice to help prepare you for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam, which must typically be passed in order to become licensed in your state. The bottom line is that, compared to some other good healthcare occupations, it's possible to enter this field rather quickly.
5. A Daily Sense of Enjoyment
Occupational therapy assisting is known to be among the least stressful vocations in healthcare. Plus, it doesn't generally require spending much time at a desk. Instead, most COTAs get to stay pretty active while making a meaningful difference in the lives of the people they help. It's a role that can offer daily variety, flexible work schedules, and rewarding personal connections.
Where to Begin
Start exploring nearby options for occupational therapy assistant training. Schools in your area can be found with one simple search. Just enter your current zip code to generate an updated list of possibilities!
* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, website last visited on August 14, 2015.
** American Occupational Therapy Association, website last visited on August 17, 2015.
*** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 8, 2016.
**** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on May 6, 2016.