Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a certified occupational therapy assistant. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Certified occupational therapy assistants support occupational therapists in providing rehabilitative care to patients with mental, emotional or physical impairments that prevent them from working or living independently. They aim to help patients recover from, or compensate for, an ailment and resume a productive life. Almost all programs to become an occupational therapy assistant lead to associate's degrees. Certification, licensing, or registration is mandated to work in most states.

Required Education Associate's degree in occupational therapy assisting
Licensing and Certification Required by most states; some utilize the certification exam offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 43%*
Median Salary (2013) $55,270*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

The vast majority of occupational therapy assistant programs are offered as associate's degrees. Although a high school diploma is usually the only hard prerequisite, schools may give preference to students who have completed biology courses or volunteered at a healthcare facility.

The first year of an occupational therapy assistant program is typically devoted to classroom work. A fieldwork or clinical practice component augments classes the second year. Classes include medical terminology, neuroscience concepts, kinesiology, physical rehab, intervention techniques, pediatrics and gerontology. Students who complete this program are prepared to work under an occupational therapist in acute care, rehabilitation, home healthcare, long-term care and outpatient settings.

Licensing and Certification

There are currently 40 U.S. states that mandate licensing, registration or certification for occupational therapy assistants. Some states accept a national certifying exam offered by the National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy as meeting their regulations, but others have their own licensing exam. Assistants who work in schools or early intervention programs may also need education-related credentials, such as education classes or a teaching certificate. Many states require occupational therapy assistants to take part in workshops and continuing education courses in order to maintain their certification.

Duties and Skills

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with an occupational therapist to devise a treatment plan and then lead patients through the plan. This generally entails helping patients perform stretching, strengthening and range of motion exercises, as well as acclimating them to wheelchairs, artificial limbs or other devices. Assistants also monitor the progress of treatment and suggest changes if a patient isn't progressing. Occupational therapy assistants also need to be adept at verbal communication, sympathetic to the emotional needs of patients and perceptive to any difficulties patients have adjusting to limited circumstances.

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