Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Summary

occupational therapy assistants and aides image
Occupational therapy assistants help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises.
Quick Facts: Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
2012 Median Pay $48,940 per year
$23.53 per hour
Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2012 38,600
Job Outlook, 2012-22 41% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 15,900

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients, while occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Work Environment

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work primarily in occupational therapists’ offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, working with patients.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. In most states, occupational therapy assistants must be licensed. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Pay

In May 2012, the median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was $53,240. The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $26,850 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of occupational therapy assistants and aides is projected to grow 41 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of occupational therapy assistants and aides with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about occupational therapy assistants and aides by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides
Occupational therapy assistants may handle some of the routine work of running an occupational therapy practice, like answering calls from patients.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients, while occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Duties

Occupational therapy assistants typically do the following:

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment; for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier
  • Record patients’ progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks

Occupational therapy aides typically do the following:

  • Prepare treatment areas, such as setting up therapy equipment
  • Transport patients
  • Clean treatment areas and equipment
  • Help patients with billing and insurance forms
  • Perform clerical tasks, including scheduling appointments and answering telephones

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan for each patient. Activities in plans range from teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair to the best way to stretch their muscles. For example, an occupational therapy assistant might work with injured workers to help them get back into the workforce by teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Occupational therapy assistants also may work with people with learning disabilities to teach them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure patients are doing them correctly. They also encourage the patients. They record the patient’s progress so the therapist can change the treatment plan if the patient is not getting the desired results.

Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment. They may assist patients with moving to and from treatment areas. After a therapy session, aides clean the treatment area and any communal equipment.

Occupational therapy aides also fill out insurance forms and other paperwork and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and monitoring inventory levels.

Work Environment

occupational therapy assistants and aides image
Some occupational therapy assistants and aides work with students in schools.

Occupational therapy assistants held about 30,300 jobs in 2012. Occupational therapy aides held about 8,400 jobs in 2012. Occupational therapy assistants and aides work primarily in occupational therapists’ offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities.

The industries that employed the most occupational therapy assistants in 2012 were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists,
and audiologists
35%
Nursing and residential care facilities22
Hospitals; state, local, and private21
Educational services; state, local, and private6
Home health care services4

The industries that employed the most occupational therapy aides in 2012 were as follows: 

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists,
and audiologists
33%
Hospitals; state, local, and private32
Nursing and residential care facilities13
Social assistance5
Educational services; state, local, and private4

Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, working with patients. Constant kneeling and stooping are part of the job, as is the need to sometimes lift patients.

Work Schedules

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients' schedules.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide

Occupational therapy assistants and aides
Occupational therapy aides help patients with billing and insurance forms.

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. They also must be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Education and Training

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health. They can also increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist's office, or a physical therapist's office.

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In March 2013, there were 162 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a branch of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study. They include classroom instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. Occupational therapy assistants also must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork as part of their education to gain hands-on work experience.

Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. Training can last from several weeks to a few months and covers a number of topics, including set up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Prior work experience in healthcare as well as CPR and Basic Life Support (BLS) certifications may be helpful in getting a job.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and caring and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must be able to quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. 

Flexibility. Assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best type of therapy to use for achieving a patient’s goals.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients. They should be friendly and courteous, and they should be able to communicate with patients to the extent of their ability and training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed or registered. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Some states have additional requirements.

Occupational therapy assistants must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title "Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant" (COTA). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated.

Advancement

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education to become occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist "bridge" education programs are designed for qualifying occupational therapy assistants to advance to therapists.

Pay

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Median annual wages, May 2012

Occupational therapy assistants

$53,240

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

$48,940

Total, all occupations

$34,750

Occupational therapy aides

$26,850

 

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was $53,240 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,970, and the top 10 percent earned more than $73,120.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $26,850 in May 2012. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,030, and the top 10 percent earned more than $47,880.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for occupational therapy assistants in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows:

Home health care services$57,840
Nursing and residential care facilities57,260
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists,
and audiologists
55,070
Hospitals; state, local, and private49,460
Educational services; state, local, and private43,330

In May 2012, the median annual wages for occupational therapy aides in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows: 

Hospitals; state, local, and private$29,370
Nursing and residential care facilities28,380
Educational services; state, local, and private27,970
Social assistance25,890
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists,
and audiologists
22,580

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients' schedules.

Job Outlook

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Occupational therapy assistants

43%

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

41%

Occupational therapy aides

36%

Total, all occupations

11%

 

Employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 43 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to increase 36 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 3,000 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Demand for occupational therapy is expected to rise significantly over the coming decade in response to the health needs of the aging baby-boom generation and a growing elderly population. Older adults are more prone than younger people to conditions and ailments such as arthritis and stroke. These conditions can affect the ability to perform a variety of everyday activities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help occupational therapists in caring for these people. Occupational therapy will also continue to be used for treating children and young adults with developmental disabilities like autism.

Demand for occupational therapy assistants is also expected to stem from healthcare providers employing more assistants to reduce the cost of occupational therapy services. After the therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a treatment plan, the occupational therapy assistant can provide many aspects of the treatment that the therapist prescribed.

Demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. The number of individuals who have access to occupational therapy services may increase because of federal health insurance reform. Both rehabilitation and habilitation services are listed among the essential health benefits that insurers will need to cover once reforms are implemented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help therapists treat additional patients and to ensure that treatment facility operations run smoothly.

Job Prospects

Occupational therapy assistants and aides with experience working in an occupational therapy office or other healthcare setting should have the best job opportunities. In addition to overall employment growth, job openings will also result from the need to replace occupational therapy assistants and aides who leave the occupation.

Employment projections data for Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

31-2010 38,600 54,600 41 15,900 [XLS]

Occupational therapy assistants

31-2011 30,300 43,200 43 12,900 [XLS]

Occupational therapy aides

31-2012 8,400 11,400 36 3,000 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants have many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Postsecondary non-degree award $34,500
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, podiatrists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary non-degree award $29,370
Occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Master’s degree $75,400
Pharmacy technicians

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.

High school diploma or equivalent $29,320
Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants (sometimes called PTAs) and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

See How to Become One $39,430
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm (visited September 02, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014