How To Become An Occupational Therapy Assistant
Career Video: Occupational Therapy Assistant
If you want to provide therapeutic activities to patients without undergoing the extensive educational requirement needed to become to an occupational therapist, you can consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant. In this profession, you will be working with occupational therapists in formulating and carrying out a treatment plan for clients. You will be aiding them in these activities, such as when they perform their stretches and other exercises designed to help them recover so they can lead normal lives. For instance, you will be teaching a patient suffering from Parkinson’s disease how to utilize devices that will simplify the eating process. You could also be working with injured workers, helping them regain or if this is not possible, find ways to substitute, the motor skills that were damaged while they were doing their jobs. You will also be working with children with developmental disabilities, leading them in activities that improve coordination and encourage socialization. Since you will be assisting an occupational therapist, you will also be performing administrative functions such as recording the patient’s progress for a particular treatment plan. In the event that no improvement is seen based on your monitoring, the occupational therapist may formulate a new treatment plan.
Occupational therapy assistants also work together with occupational therapy aides in helping patients. However, aides are typically limited to simpler tasks such as preparing and cleaning up equipment and treatment areas and transferring patients. Clerical duties, such as setting up appointments and answering phone calls and helping patients fill up billing and insurance forms correctly, are also taken care of by occupational therapy aides.
As an occupational therapy assistant, you need to have compassion for people. Your patients are those who are challenged in doing activities that we often take for granted. As such, you need to understand them and share their frustration. You also need to develop excellent interpersonal skills since you need to patients to follow the exact procedure you say for therapy to be effective. You also need to possess a fair amount of strength and be physically fit as you will be assisting patients, lifting and running after them, in the course of your duties.
Why Become An Occupational Therapy Assistant
One reason to become an occupational therapy assistant is the satisfaction of knowing that you are part of a healthcare team that gives patients the chance to recover from injury and lead normal lives as much as possible. You also help children with developmental problems communicate their needs and give them the opportunity to cope in society in spite of their condition.
Another reason to pursue this career is because it still enables you to work the field of occupational therapy without going through the lengthy educational process required of occupational therapists. As a rapidly-growing occupation, there are also more work opportunities for aspiring occupational therapy assistants in the coming years. It also provides decent pay.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Work Environment
Occupational therapy assistants generally work in various healthcare settings. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that in 2012, about 35 percent of occupational therapy assistants worked in the offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists and audiologists while 22 percent were employed with nursing and residential care facilities. Hospitals hired 21 percent of occupational therapy assistants while others were employed in schools and home health services.
Occupational therapy assistants usually work fulltime during regular working hours although they may have to work on weekends or evenings to accommodate clients. Lifting, stooping and kneeling are a common feature of the job so in order to avoid injury or strain, occupational therapy assistants must follow proper body mechanics and be physically healthy.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary
The May 2013 Occupational Employment and Wages report of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that occupational therapy assistants received a mean annual wage of $55,250. This is definitely higher than the $28,900 paid to occupational therapy aides but lower than the $$77,890 received by occupational therapists.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Outlook
A fast-growing career, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that the employment rate of occupational therapy assistants for 2012 to 2022 is 43 percent, a rate that is so much faster than the average for all job types. Thus, from the 30,300 occupational therapy assistants hired in 2012, it is expected that the number will rise to 43,200 in 2022.
The demand will be fueled by the growing senior population who are more prone to arthritis, stroke and other ailments that require the services of occupational therapists and their assistants. Moreover, the federal health insurance reform, which would enable more people to get occupational therapy services, would also contribute to the demand. Assistants will continue to be needed to help those with developmental disabilities as well. Finally, healthcare providers will also hire more assistants to help bring down the cost of occupational therapy services. An occupational therapist will only need to come up with a treatment plan after seeing the patient and the assistant will be responsible for carrying the prescribed treatment and tracking the patient’s progress.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Degree
If you are still in high school and intend to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant, it is highly recommended that you take up classes in health, biology and physical education. It would also be a good idea to start volunteering in a nursing home or in the office of an occupational therapist or physical therapist. This will not only give you an idea of what the work is like but will also make it easier for you to be admitted to a community college or technical school where you can enroll in an occupational therapy assistant program.
The formal educational entry point for this career is an associate degree in an occupational therapy assistant program. These are typically two-year programs that cover courses in biology, psychology and children’s health. In addition to classroom instruction, occupational therapy assistant students must also finish at least 16 weeks of fieldwork so they can get real experience about the job. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education has accredited 162 occupational therapy assistant programs as of March 2013, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
After graduating from the program, occupational therapy assistants must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam so they can hold the designation as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, a certification that is required to work in most states.