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How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Written by St. Andrews

An occupational therapy assistant plays an essential role in helping patients achieve independence and improve the quality of everyday life. Working directly with patients, the occupational therapy assistant is often part of a larger patient care team. Understanding the therapist’s work environment, licensing requirements, and educational programs is the first step to determining if this career is right for you.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for occupational therapy assistants and aides is $59,200 with a job growth outlook of 31%. This fast-growing career might be right for you if you like helping children, adults or older adults lead more productive lives and achieve greater independence when disease or injury affects their physical and/or emotional ability to do everyday tasks.

 

 

Work Environment

Woman with down syndrome cooking in the kitchen

As an occupational therapy assistant, you have the opportunity to work within a variety of environments. Whether you prefer providing treatment to clients in a clinic, a classroom, a large hospital, within the community or in a client’s home, you can find the work environment that best suits you.

Occupational therapy assistants can work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Assistive Living and Nursing Care Facilities
  • Schools
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers
  • Private Therapy Practices
  • In a patient’s home

As a licensed occupational therapy assistant, you will work underneath the supervision of a licensed  occupational therapist to help patients complete an assortment of different daily tasks and routines such as eating, dressing, cooking, bathing and finding success at work, school, home and in their day to day relationships.

You will also use your skills to help your patients improve physical range of motion and other bodily functions, as well as utilize your skills to collaborate with other health professionals in other industries such as private companies that have ergonomic concerns for their employees, therapeutic riding centers, and other community-based programs. 

You are only limited by your creativity and imagination. The services of occupational therapy providers make distinct contributions to the lives of their patients by working with the whole person to ensure that they are healthy and happy.

Education Options

To become an occupational therapy assistant, there is a minimum educational requirement to qualify for state licensure and sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Exam. First, one must achieve and graduate with a two-year associate’s degree from an ACOTE accredited occupational therapy assistant program.

For the first time in history, entry-level education to become an occupational therapy assistant will be offered at a Baccalaureate level! Currently, there are no occupational therapy assistant education programs beyond the two-year associate level. St. Andrews University (a branch of Webber International University) will be one of the first universities in the nation and in the state of North Carolina to offer a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assisting (BSOTA)!  

The BSOTA is a unique pre-professional degree program designed to prepare students to take the National Board of Certification (NBCOT) Exam to become an occupational therapy assistant upon graduation, apply to graduate school to become an occupational therapist and/or assist the student in securing a diverse career in healthcare or healthcare-related field. 

Expanding your education to a four-year degree program with a minor in Health Services Administration will help you acquire a strong knowledge of evidence-based theory and practice, be able to apply critical, outside-of-the-box thinking and be confident in your hands-on clinical skills, making you an exceptional candidate for job positions in occupational therapy, leadership and management within the profession and in the healthcare industry.

During your course of study at St. Andrews University, in the first two years, you will complete health services administration and general education coursework in the arts, humanities, and sciences. During the last two years of the program, you will focus on the completion of the core occupational therapy assistant curriculum, which is enhanced by rich interprofessional experiences and clinical fieldwork found in clinically diverse and innovative interdisciplinary environments.

When you graduate, you can look forward to a dynamic career helping people with traumatic injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or mental health problems in their homes, community centers, rehabilitation hospitals, and nursing homes. 

In addition, graduates will have diverse career opportunities to help children with Cerebral Palsy, Down’s Syndrome, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems in early intervention programs, school systems, private practice, public health, and community programs.

The Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assisting program at St. Andrews is seeking Candidacy Status, one of the first steps in the accreditation process, with the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). 

The accreditation process takes approximately two years before the first cohort of students enters the program and is completed prior to the first cohort graduates from the program. The program must be ACOTE-accredited prior to the student’s graduation from the program for students to be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam immediately upon graduation. 

The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) is located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its Web address is www.acoteonline.org for questions about accreditation.

License and Certification

In some states it is possible to begin work as an occupational therapy assistant without becoming certified, however many states require you to pass the National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam before you can apply for state licensure and officially be considered an occupational therapy assistant.

In order to take the NBCOT certification exam, you will need to show that you have met a few important criteria. These items help to ensure the minimum education of all applications for certification and include:

  • Graduating from an ACOTE accredited occupational therapy assistant program
  • Submit an official college transcript
  • Agree to abide by the NBCOT Practice Standards
  • Agree to the NBCOT Code of Conduct

For more information on NBCOT Exam requirements visit: https://www.nbcot.org/Students/get-certified

Even if your goal is to work in health services administration or some other area of a hospital or medical office setting, certification may be preferred. Passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam officially gives you the designation of a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).

Finding the Right Occupational Therapy Assistant Program

Nursing home care for seniors while drinking coffee and playing in the retirement home

The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) is the accrediting body that colleges and universities need to go through. The accreditation process is lengthy and requires three steps. Find a program that is open and honest about this process and where they stand in the application process of accreditation.

Minor programs are important too. Your 4-year college program allows for additional courses in a specialty area that you are passionate about as well as a minor that will help your career move forward. Be sure to explore all your options when researching the school you want to attend!

Classes that you will likely see in your program of study include:

  •  Anatomy & Physiology
  • Public Policy in Healthcare
  • Health Service Administration
  • Ethics
  • Foundations of Occupational Therapy 
  • Kinesiology
  • Neuromuscular conditions
  • Lifespan Development
  • Pediatrics
  • Advanced Clinical Practice
  • Fieldwork

Your education will consist of acquiring the skills and knowledge to treat clients with various conditions by learning how to improve the independence and quality of life for children, adults, and seniors. By choosing a 4-year program, you will have time to add specialized training and skills based on your personal interests and career goals.

The right program for you should also include expert dedicated faculty that will empower you to achieve your career aspirations and help you navigate towards your vision of a meaningful future. The program should also allow you to work closely with their academic advisors, program director, and academic fieldwork coordinator to schedule courses and clinical fieldwork that will prepare you for certification. 

Because certification is such an essential aspect of working as an occupational therapy assistant, you will want to find an educational program that helps you ace the NBCOT exam!!

Why Choose St. Andrews University?

Nursery teacher sitting with a parent and her Down Syndrome son in the classroom.

At St. Andrews University our 4-year Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assisting is a unique pre-professional degree program designed for diverse practice and your success in the career field of occupational therapy. This pre-professional degree will prepare students to pass the NBCOT exam and become certified occupational therapy assistants. 

From the moment you start your classes, you and your academic advisor and faculty mentor will be working together as a team to ensure that you complete the required courses that will prepare you to pass your exam and get the dream job.

The BSOTA program incorporates a Health Services Administration minor and general education coursework in the arts, humanities and sciences into the foundational phase and first two years of coursework. This helps set you apart from others by preparing you for leadership roles and further your career by fostering an ability to apply ‘outside of the box’ and critical thinking, and develop an appreciation for collaborative interdisciplinary practice, a sensitivity towards the human condition, and a sound understanding of culturally appropriate, medically relevant and evidence-based care. 

Planning for your long term career may not seem important when you first enroll in classes, but once you start working, you will be excited to be able to reap the benefits of having this additional education and experience to apply in your health services career.

St. Andrews University’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program is new and evolving. It is life-transforming, culturally diverse, innovative, global in its scope, and rich with learning opportunities that will prepare you, a future clinician, for diverse practice. 

Prospective students can be assured that the faculty are seasoned clinicians, current in practice, experts in their area of specialization and that the curriculum includes the latest changes within the therapy community to ensure students are prepared for clinically relevant, effective, and evidence-based practice upon graduation and certification. 

BSOTA Program faculty and administrators are always excited to talk with prospective students about questions and assist in determining if becoming an occupational therapy assistant is right for you.

Contact St. Andrew’s today to get started on your new career as an occupational therapy assistant! Visit our program page for more information on the St. Andrews Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assisting Program.