Bureau of Labor Statistics

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

occupational therapy assistants and aides image
Occupational therapy aides transport patients to and from treatment areas.
Quick Facts: Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
2017 Median Pay $56,690 per year
$27.25 per hour
Typical 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, 2016 46,800
Job Outlook, 2016-26 28% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 13,200

Summary

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; 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, in hospitals, and in nursing care facilities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet while setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, providing therapy to 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. All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapy aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and receive training on the job.

Pay

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $29,200 in May 2017.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was $59,310 in May 2017.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of occupational therapy assistants and aides is projected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for occupational therapy assistants and aides.

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 aides may handle some clerical tasks, like answering calls from patients and scheduling appointments.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; 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
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • 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. Plans include diverse activities such as teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair and advising patients on 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 who have learning disabilities, teaching them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure that patients are doing them correctly. They record the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the occupational therapist so that 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, put away equipment, and gather laundry.

Occupational therapy aides 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
Occupational therapy assistants may work with children who have developmental disabilities.

Occupational therapy aides held about 7,500 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of occupational therapy aides were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 38%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 27
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 11
Social assistance 5
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

Occupational therapy assistants held about 39,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of occupational therapy assistants were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 42%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 19
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Home healthcare services 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 5

Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet while setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, providing therapy to patients. Constant kneeling and stooping are part of the job, as is the occasional need to 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. All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapy aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and are trained on the job.

Education and Training

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 2017, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. In addition to taking coursework, occupational therapy assistants must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on work experience.

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health education. They also can 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 aides typically need 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 days to a few weeks and covers a number of topics, including the setting up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Previous work experience in healthcare may be helpful in getting a job.

Both occupational therapy assistants and aides often need certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS).

Important Qualities

Adaptability. 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 therapy to achieve a patient’s goals.

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 have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. In addition, aides must pay attention to detail when performing clerical tasks, such as helping a patient fill out an insurance form.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should communicate clearly with patients and with patients’ families to the extent of their 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

All states regulate the practice of occupational therapy assistants, with most requiring licensure. 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 their certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specialty certifications for occupational therapy assistants who want to demonstrate their specialized level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in specialized areas of practice such as low vision or feeding, eating, and swallowing.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated by state law.

Advancement

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education and becoming occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist “bridge” education programs are designed to qualify occupational therapy assistants to advance and become therapists.

Pay

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Median annual wages, May 2017

Occupational therapy assistants

$59,310

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

$56,690

Occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants and aides

$50,510

Total, all occupations

$37,690

Occupational therapy aides

$29,200

 

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $29,200 in May 2017. 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 $20,730, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,100.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was $59,310 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,320.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for occupational therapy aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $36,900
Educational services; state, local, and private 35,750
Hospitals; state, local, and private 29,310
Social assistance 26,270
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 26,190

In May 2017, the median annual wages for occupational therapy assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $65,920
Home healthcare services 65,540
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 59,540
Hospitals; state, local, and private 53,700
Educational services; state, local, and private 48,880

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 2016-26

Occupational therapy and physical therapist assistants and aides

30%

Occupational therapy assistants

29%

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

28%

Occupational therapy aides

25%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 29 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to grow 25 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 1,800 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help therapists treat additional patients and to ensure that treatment facility operations run smoothly. However, demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance.

Demand for occupational therapy is likely to grow 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 one’s ability to perform a variety of everyday activities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help occupational therapists in caring for these patients. Occupational therapy will also continue to be used to treat children and young adults with developmental disabilities, such as autism.

Healthcare providers, especially those specializing in long-term care such as nursing homes and home healthcare services, will continue to employ 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.

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. However, occupational therapy aides may face strong competition from the large pool of qualified people, because requirements for entry are low.

Employment projections data for occupational therapy assistants and aides, 2016-26

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

Occupational Title

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

SOC Code31-2010
Employment, 201646,800
Projected Employment, 202660,000
Percent Change, 2016-2628
Numeric Change, 2016-2613,200
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Occupational therapy assistants

SOC Code31-2011
Employment, 201639,300
Projected Employment, 202650,700
Percent Change, 2016-2629
Numeric Change, 2016-2611,400
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx
Occupational Title

Occupational therapy aides

SOC Code31-2012
Employment, 20167,500
Projected Employment, 20269,300
Percent Change, 2016-2625
Numeric Change, 2016-261,800
Employment by Industryemployment projections excel document xlsx

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

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 2017 MEDIAN PAY
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform 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 nondegree award $37,630
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary nondegree award $32,480
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, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.

Master's degree $83,200
Pharmacy technicians

Pharmacy Technicians

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

High school diploma or equivalent $31,750
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 $46,920
Psychiatric technicians and aides

Psychiatric Technicians and Aides

Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities. Technicians typically provide therapeutic care and monitor their patients’ conditions. Aides help patients in their daily activities and ensure a safe, clean environment.

See How to Become One $29,330

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Friday, April 13, 2018

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm (visited September 29, 2018).

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