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Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Programs Overview

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

Occupational therapy assistants work in the rehabilitation industry under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. Most assistants work directly with patients who are suffering from a mental or physical disability. Assistants motivate patients and help them to re-learn how to complete everyday tasks. A 2-year degree as an occupational therapy assistant is required for this career. Most educational programs in the field conclude with a certification exam; most states require passing this exam to earn licensure.

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

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Program Overview for Occupational Therapy Assistants

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the minimum educational requirements for this career include completing an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education-approved 2-year occupational therapy assistant program (www.bls.gov). Most programs are divided into two sections: foundational occupational therapy coursework and supervised practice with real patients. Those who complete these programs are eligible to sit for both certification and licensing exams in most states.

Foundational occupational therapy coursework includes physical and psychological disabilities, pediatric disabilities, adult disabilities, gerontology studies, anatomy, physiology and kinesiology. Advanced occupational therapy coursework covers health care ethics, therapeutic treatments, occupational therapy technologies and workplace safety. In supervised settings, students work with different groups of patients, such as those coping with physical limitations, psychological issues or vocational rehabilitation. While working with these patients, students learn to follow the instructions provided by licensed occupational therapists, which can also include evaluating patients and noting any level of improvement.

Certification Programs

In order to become a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA), individuals must take the certification exam provided by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (www.nbcot). Exams are multiple-choice and cover three key domains, including understanding client needs, evaluating client progress and maintaining professional standards. Upon passing the exam, individuals are recognized as certified and must renew their certifications every three years. In order to renew, individuals must accrue professional development units by attending recognized occupational therapy conferences and classes.

Licensing Requirements

As of 2013, the BLS reported that most states had some sort of licensing or registration process for certified occupational therapy assistants. Each state has different licensing requirements, but most states require applicants to show proof of completing a recognized occupational therapy assistant degree program. Many states also require that individuals submit the scores from their COTA certification exam with the license application. Another common license requirement includes passing a background check, which may include being fingerprinted and tested for tuberculosis.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS projected a 43% increase in job opportunities for occupational therapy assistants from 2012-2022, which is much faster than the national average. The mean annual wages for these workers were $55,250 in May 2013.

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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics