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Occupational Therapy Assistant Training Programs and Requirements

Occupational therapy assistant (OTA) training programs typically culminate in an associate degree. Most employers require occupational therapy assistant applicants to have graduated from a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education and be licensed by their state, if applicable.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

Occupational therapy assistants, or occupational therapist assistants, collaborate with occupational therapists in the rehabilitation of physically, psychologically or developmentally impaired patients. They track patient progressions and communicate findings with a supervising occupational therapist. Employers generally require applicants to possess a 2-year degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. Clinical experience may be a prerequisite for employment and is offered by all accredited programs.

Formal Education

Most OTA programs are based on a selective admissions process. Individuals interested in becoming occupational therapists should not enroll in an occupational therapy assistant degree program; this 2-year training track is intended for individuals seeking career entry and practical instruction in the specific vocational field of occupational therapy assisting.

Associate of Applied Science Program

OTA students take classes in child, adult and elderly disabilities. They also learn about anatomy and physiology, psychology and mental health disabilities. Most 2-year degree programs require occupational therapy assistant students to participate in two clinical experiences. The first usually requires one semester of instructor-supervised practicum, and another semester involves full-time work experience overseen by a licensed occupational therapist.

Job Experience

While many employers require applicants to have between six months and one year of related experience, just as many organizations are willing to hire recent OTA college graduates. Occupational therapy assistants must often possess basic strength and stamina, since they are responsible for repositioning patients. Certain employers may prefer occupational therapy assistants with experience in specific surroundings, such as home health or nursing home care. Preferences may also be given to OTAs who speak Spanish and English.

Licenses and Certifications

Most states have licensure or registration requirements for occupational therapy assistants, and most employers require applicants to be licensed or, at the very least, eligible for licensure. Licensure prerequisites vary by state, but generally necessitate graduating from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program and passing an exam on field-specific knowledge and skills. Further, the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) offers a voluntary Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential to applicants who pass an exam; this designation may be preferred by employers. Most employers also require occupational therapy assistants to hold current CPR certifications.

Workshops and Seminars

The majority of states require occupational therapy assistants to maintain licensure by enrolling in continuing education courses every one or two years. Continuing education workshops are often offered through state-run occupational therapy associations and other industry organizations, such as the American Occupational Therapy Association. Workshops like these usually require five days of attendance, during which time participants can hear guest speakers and attend general and special-interest workshops. Professional seminars typically last a few hours and are often offered online or in person, through colleges and employers.

Additional Professional Development

Occupational therapy assistants can visit state and OT organizational websites, which may offer event calendars, professional discussion forums and articles dedicated to the training and advancement of occupational therapists and assistants. What's more, some employers offer mentorship opportunities, in which OTAs can continue to develop their craft and learn hands-on skills from more experienced professionals. Depending on experience, occupational therapy assistants may also qualify for supervisory positions.

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