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Occupational Therapy Assistant

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Overall Score
(7.2 out of 10)

Number of Jobs

12,900

Median Salary

$53,240

Unemployment Rate

1.6 percent

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This Job is Ranked in
Best Health Care Jobs #13
The 100 Best Jobs #21

Occupational therapy assistants work by the motto “live life to its fullest.” As Ginny Stoffel, president of the American Occupational Therapy Association, explains, an OT assistant’s goal is to “help people overcome whatever barrier they have.” These professionals work hand in hand with occupational therapists to develop treatments and daily routines that make life easier for people of all ages who face an array of mental and physical challenges. Occupational therapists typically examine patients and assess their difficulties and then work with an occupational therapy assistant to come up with a plan of action that improves their quality of life and independence. “There’s always a careful match between the person and what their needs are and then the skills of the assistant to carry out the intervention,” Stoffel says. For example, assistants might work with children to address development issues; create plans for people with disabilities living in a group home, so they can contribute to cleaning and cooking; or help the elderly with necessities as simple as getting dressed and brushing their teeth or taking a trip to the grocery store. “When people get engaged in those meaningful activities of everyday life, they’re far more likely to be healthy and happy and full, active citizens,” Stoffel says.

As baby boomers enter their later years and face new physical and mental challenges, there will be a greater need for occupational therapy assistants who can help them with daily tasks. The rapid pace of new drug treatments and medical advancements is also prolonging lives. But it all comes with a cost, Stoffel says: “People who might have in the past died are now able to live, but have to live with different kinds of life challenges.” And they’re going to need help, which is why the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the profession will grow an astonishing 42.6 percent from 2012 to 2022 – much faster than the average for all occupations – and will add 12,900 new jobs during that period.

Salary

Occupational therapy assistants earned a median salary of $53,240 in 2012, according to the BLS. The lowest-paid in the field took home less than $32,970 in 2012. Some of the more lucrative positions are in home health care and nursing care facilities, and the best-paid made more than $73,120. The metropolitan areas of Las Vegas, Fort Worth, Texas, and Reading, Pa., are home to the highest-paid in the profession.

Salary Range

75th Percentile $64,080
Median $53,240
25th Percentile $42,580

Training

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate degree, which can typically be completed in two years. As of March 2013, there were 162 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Coursework includes subjects such as biology, psychology and pediatric health. Beside classes, OT assistants need 16 weeks of fieldwork, which could take place in a nursing care facility or occupational therapist office. Stoffel, an associate professor in the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee’s Department of Occupational Science and Technology, says the overarching goal of OT programs is to “look at everyday life and prepare students to help people overcome environmental or attitudinal barriers that prevent people from doing things they want to do.”

After becoming a certified OT assistant, it’s easy to move up to occupational therapist standing. Stoffel says many academic programs throughout the country work with assistants interested in career laddering. To obtain an occupational therapy license, assistants must first receive a master’s degree or doctorate and pass an exam by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Reviews & Advice

There is a plethora of job opportunities in this line of work, but all the posted positions might not be labeled as “occupational therapy assistants.” Stoffel gives the example of her first job in an elder care facility where she designed activities for residents. “It was a job that wasn’t billed as an OT assistant, but it offered enriched activity programing for people living in this long-term care setting,” she says.

Candidates who have worked in an occupational therapy office or another health care setting will have a leg up in the job market. Occupational therapy offices may also seek more assistants to help treat patients in the next decade in response to health care reform. The BLS reports that the number of patients seeking occupational therapy services may grow, since more Americans will be able to cover costs with insurance.

Job Satisfaction

Upward Mobility fair Average
Stress Level poor Above Average
Flexibility fair Average
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Last updated by Stephanie Steinberg.


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