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What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do on a Daily Basis?

Written by St. Andrews

Many of us take for granted the movements that our body naturally does throughout the day. We often don’t think twice about getting up out of bed, getting dressed, or walking to the kitchen. It isn’t until we have an injury, surgery, or aches and pains that we notice how much we use our fingers, hands, or joints and limbs for daily function. Occupational therapy is a vital resource for patients, both young and old, who need help teaching their bodies how to perform meaningful, daily tasks, and routines. So, what does an occupational therapy assistant do on a daily basis?

Occupational therapists and their assistants work together to find the best solutions to their patient’s needs. St. Andrews University (A Branch of Webber International University) offers a unique degree program and the first of its kind in this field, to help serve those in the community that need a little extra help achieving independence with daily function due to disease, disability or injury. 

OTA Work Environments

Certified occupational therapy assistants (COTA) can work in a variety of settings. While some graduates of OTA programs find themselves working in a nursing home or assisted living facility, others work in a hospital, outpatient clinic, school, or community-based program.

Some COTAs that work in early intervention or home health programs also drive to each of their client’s homes to help them achieve independence with daily routines and tasks. Home-based occupational therapy care provides much-needed help and assistance to clients across the lifespan who are homebound and also provides support to the families of those who have physical or cognitive disabilities.

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do on a Daily Basis?

Depending on the work setting you chose to work in, occupational therapy assistants can have a varied daily schedule. With an OTA degree from St. Andrews University, you will learn more about what a typical OTA schedule will look like before you graduate.  Below is an example of what an OTA’s schedule may look like in a clinic-based setting.

Early Morning: Check-in and Prepare

Some occupational therapy assistants start their workday around 8 am. This schedule is typical of an outpatient or clinic setting. You will check in with your occupational therapy supervisor and overlook the patient caseload that you are assigned for the day. 

Preparing for your day is essential, as different patients have different needs. You may need to set out special equipment for a patient well beforehand so that you are ready for the therapy appointment. Therapy clinics often have a lot of equipment and machines to use. It is important to have a team player attitude and collaborate with other therapists when planning the therapeutic activities you will be completing with the patient in order to meet their therapy needs.  

Mid-Morning: Work with Patients

OTA appointments can vary, however, they are usually about 30 – 60 minutes long. Working one-on-one with your patient is the central part of the job. Listening to their concerns, assessing their needs by asking questions, and completing a task analysis to implement appropriate treatment activities is important to know how to address the patient’s injury or disability.  

How you address a patient’s injury or disability will vary, from completing therapeutic activities to increase range of motion, stability, and balance, to improving the cognitive skills necessary for driving, cooking and dressing. Appointments in a clinical setting are often back-to-back, so it is crucial to develop good time management skills to ensure that your patient completes the therapeutic activities you have provided within their allotted appointment time. 

Early Afternoon: Lunch

There is a lot that an occupational therapy assistant does on a daily basis, so taking a break for lunch is always important! Lunch breaks can be spent alone or bonding with your co-workers. At other times, lunches can be used to do extra training, attend interdisciplinary meetings, or meet with your supervisor. 

An occupational therapy assistant works with a young boy on a swing

Afternoon: Work with Patients

The afternoon work session is spent seeing more patients for their occupational therapy needs. You will work with patients just like you did in the morning. If you work in a pediatric clinic, it may be common to see more teens and children during the afternoon hours, as most children attend school during the day. In some therapy clinics, the afternoons are a time to complete documentation for the day, or catch up on missed or incomplete paperwork.

Keeping good therapy notes and records about each patient helps you effectively meet the needs of each patient, helps you be an effective member of the healthcare team, and helps your occupational therapy supervisor design, update or change current treatment plans when needed.

Late Afternoon: Prepare & Finish

In a clinical setting, most OTAs finish work around 5 pm. The late afternoon or end of the day work time slot can be used to prepare for patients scheduled for the following day and/or catch up on anything else you left unfinished. 

How to Become an OTA

College students in a study group

Earning your degree from St. Andrews University is an important first step that will assist you in achieving your career as a  COTA. Our students earn a 4 year Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Therapy Assisting with a minor in Health Services Administration. This pre-professional degree program helps prepare students to sit for the National Board of Occupational Therapy Certification Exam (NBCOT) when they graduate. 

Once you pass this exam, graduates are immediately eligible to get to work as an OTA with proper state licensure, and can begin helping patients perform daily tasks and routines with more independence and confidence.

Undergraduate Coursework

As a student in the BSOTA program at St. Andrews University (A Branch of Webber International University)  you’ll take general coursework during the first two years. This is called the foundational phase of the program. Coursework in this phase will help you learn more about humanities and sciences and give you a more solid foundation for the advanced courses in the professional phase of the program. This phase (the professional phase) is where you’ll complete all of the OTA core courses of the BSOTA curriculum and where you will learn all about how to care for patients in the field. This phase is also where you will get a chance to participate in and complete your occupational therapy clinical education (fieldwork experience).

Our BSOTA degree program also offers a minor in health services administration, which can be a unique advantage when entering the job field after graduation. Knowledge of how health services run can be another aspect of a diverse long-lasting career in healthcare. This range of knowledge and skills will set you apart from others in the field and can give you a more comprehensive understanding of healthcare administration and your job as an OTA.

The Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy Assisting (OTA), with a Minor in Health Services Administration successfully obtained confirmation of eligibility to apply for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929 (www.acoteonline.org).  ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA. The Program is now pursuing the next step in the accreditation process, which is the application for Candidacy Status. The program must be granted Candidacy Status, before its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapy assistant administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). 

ACOTE® accredited occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant educational programs satisfy the states’ educational requirements in all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Students graduating from an ACOTE® accredited occupational therapy assistant educational program are eligible to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification exam and apply for licensure in all states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. For more information regarding state qualifications and licensure requirements, please refer to the AOTA webpage: AOTA State Licensure

Beyond Graduation

Students who successfully complete the BSOTA program, pass the National Board of Certification Exam and obtain licensure in the state they wish to work in have two options to further their careers.

1. You Can Start Working as an OTA

Many graduates are excited to land their first job as an OTA. Working with patients on a daily basis and helping them increase their independence in completing daily tasks and routines is vital to graduates working in this field. Again, you can work at a school, community based program, hospital, medical center, or nursing home when you are ready to start working as a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA).

2. Apply for Graduate School

Some graduates who want to become a registered occupational therapist go on to attend graduate school. These students typically apply to a master’s degree program and are educated on an advanced-level so that they may complete comprehensive evaluations and assessments to design appropriate treatment plans for their clients’ needs. They also learn how to be an important part of the healthcare team by learning how to supervise and work in collaboration with occupational therapy assistants and other healthcare professionals.

Choosing to become and work as a registered occupational therapist in the future also allows you to obtain specialty certifications such as Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), Seating and Mobility Specialist (SMS), or Hippotherapy.

Occupational therapy assistants are an essential part of the healthcare system. Not only do they work with patients to increase their mobility and independence, but they also raise the spirits of patients who are hurting by addressing the patient’s injury or disability holistically. This means that occupational therapy assistants consider the whole person when working with them, including how they feel about the loss or injury and how those emotions affect the way they live and perceive life on a daily basis. 

Now that you have the answer to the question, “What does an occupational therapy assistant do on a daily basis?”, you can make a more informed decision when it comes to choosing a career that you are passionate about and deciding whether it is the right fit for your future. 

Studying to become a COTA is an excellent opportunity for a long-lasting, diverse career with ample room for growth. Contact St. Andrews University today or apply for the BSOTA degree program to get your career started in this exciting and vital healthcare field.