Occupational therapist assistants job description: Occupational therapist assistants and aides help people with physical, mental and developmental impairments or disabilities. They work under the supervision of an occupational therapist. Assistants and aides work to enhance patients’ lives by showing them different ways to perform daily tasks and helping them to improve their motor skills and cognitive abilities.
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Professionals employed as occupational therapist assistants help patients with exercises and activities based on treatment plans developed by occupational therapists. This can include teaching individuals how to move around in a wheelchair or how to properly stretch their hand muscles. Assistants monitor a patient’s progress and activities to ensure they are carried out in the correct way, and they also provide support and motivation. If a treatment does not produce the desired effects, the assistant will inform the occupational therapist, who can then modify the treatment to obtain improved results. Many occupational therapist assistants also help with billing and coordinate payments with the patient’s health insurance company.
Individuals working as occupational therapist aides are generally responsible for putting together equipment and preparing materials used in treatment. Their duties also include ordering supplies, filling out forms or paperwork, setting appointments and answering phones. Unlike occupational therapist assistants, occupational therapist aides are not regulated by the state – so their duties and responsibilities tend to be a bit more limited.
Occupational Therapist Assistants Job Summary
- Most occupational therapist assistants and aides are employed in the offices of health practitioners, nursing care facilities and hospitals.
- Occupational therapist assistants require licensing, certification or registration in most states.
- Aides must have a minimum of a high school diploma to be considered for employment.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment in this field to grow faster than average.
Work Environment for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
Occupational therapist assistants and aides often perform tasks that require a good level of strength, since they have to physically assist patients. This includes standing, kneeling, lifting and stooping for long periods of time. Their work schedule may vary depending on the type of facility that they work in, and they may be required to work days, evenings and weekends in order to accommodate patient schedules. Occupational therapist assistants and aides typically work in hospitals, nursing care facilities the offices of health practitioners, senior citizen community care facilities, home healthcare organizations, government agencies, and individual and family services.
Education, Training and Licensing
To become an occupational therapist assistant, candidates must earn a healthcare related associate's degree from a school that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and pass a national certification exam. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of 2009, there were 135 ACOTE accredited programs throughout the country.
Individuals pursuing an occupational therapist assistant career can expect to take classes in medical terminology, healthcare, anatomy, mental health, disabilities, gerontology, pediatrics and general occupational therapy classes. In addition, students in these programs are required to complete 16 weeks of fieldwork while under supervision in a clinical setting.
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In preparation for admission into an occupational therapy assistant program, high school students can take health and biology courses and do volunteer work.
Occupational therapist aide positions generally require a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Most employers seek candidates who have skills in the area of interpersonal communication and a strong interest in helping others. Volunteer work, a strong work ethic, initiative and the ability to learn new things can also increase a candidate’s chances of landing a job as an aide.
In most states, occupational therapist assistants are regulated through licensing, certification or registration. Each state may have different requirements. Industry certification is available through the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy, which administers a certification exam leading to the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) designation. In addition, occupational therapist assistants must complete continuing education classes to maintain their certification.
Jobs Projections, Outlook and Earnings for Occupational Therapist Assistants and Aides
According to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapist assistants held 26,680 jobs while occupational therapist aides held about 8,040 as of May 2009. Most of these positions were in the offices of health practitioners, nursing care facilities and hospitals. Assistants were also employed in elementary and secondary schools and home healthcare agencies, while a number of aides worked in state government.
The BLS predicts employment in this field to grow much faster than average compared to other occupations, as there is an increasing demand for assistants and aides by therapists. Assistants and aides with a college degree and experience will have an advantage over those with just a high school diploma.
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BLS records for May 2009 indicate that the average annual wage for occupational therapist assistants was $50,830. The middle 50% of assistants earned between $41,200 and $59,890, while the lowest 10% made about $33,350. The highest 10% enjoyed a yearly salary of about $68,450.
For occupational therapist aides, BLS findings for May 2009 indicate that the average annual salary was $28,890. The middle 50% of aides earned between $19,520 and $33,230, while the lowest 10% had an income of around $16,280. The highest 10% earned approximately $47,590 annually.