There are approximately 35,000 occupational therapist assistants and occupational therapist aides in the United States. Roughly two thirds of these are assistants, while the rest are aides. Job-growth statistics indicate that over the next ten years, this occupation will grow 30 percent; this is significantly faster than the average rate of growth for all jobs. This is largely attributable to the increasing senior population. Stroke, chronic conditions such as arthritis, and injuries due to falling will contribute to this rapid growth.
While occupational therapist assistants will have no problem finding work, aides will face considerably more competition. Because this work does not require a college education and provides on-the-job training, there are many more applicants than positions. However, aides with the kinds of characteristics that employers want should have little trouble finding a job.
Occupational therapist assistants usually have an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Aides are not required to have any prior training. Both assistants and aides help occupational therapists to improve quality of life and independence through rehabilitation for clients who are developmentally, emotionally, physically, or mentally impaired.
Occupational therapist assistants may collaborate with occupational therapists to create a plan of treatment, and they work directly with the client as outlined in the plan. All activities and client progress are then documented for the therapist.
Occupational therapist aides get equipment and supplies ready for treatment, put things away following treatment, schedule appointments, answer phones, check supplies, and complete insurance or other forms. By law, they are not permitted to execute many of the tasks that occupational therapist assistants may.
Occupational therapist assistants and aides need to have sufficient strength to lift clients and move heavy equipment. Because they are on their feet for most of the shift, they must also have stamina. Repeated bending, kneeling, and crouching can result in muscle pain. Characteristics that employers look for include attention to detail, compassion, efficiency, and good oral and written communication skills.
Occupational therapist assistants are usually required to have an associate’s degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). While not all states register, license, or certify assistants, many do. Additionally, many states require assistants to have passed the national certification exam for occupational therapist assistants. Programs include coursework in medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, health care, adult physical disabilities, mental health, and psychology. Sixteen weeks of clinical or community fieldwork under supervision is also required to complete the degree.
Occupational therapist aides may be required by an employer to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. However, since aides are not required to be certified, licensed, or registered in any state, this is up to the discretion of the employer. Aides are most often trained on the job.
Forty states and the District of Columbia require occupational therapist assistants to be licensed. Because each state establishes its own standards and requirements, only a few share reciprocity. Assistants working in early-intervention programs or with children in schools are required by some states to have had education classes or an early-intervention or teaching certificate.
The National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy offers voluntary certification by means of a national exam. Some states additionally require assistants to pass a state exam. Certification is maintained through attending continuing education workshops and classes; in some states, this is mandatory.
Occupational therapist assistants can advance their careers by stepping into administrative roles. Becoming a supervisor, manager, or department head are ways to advance. Other advancement might come in the form of teaching or returning to school to become an occupational therapist. Occupational therapist aides have limited opportunity to advance their careers without further education. For the most part, entering an associate’s program to become an assistant is the only option.
Occupational therapist assistants and aides work in a wide range of settings. A little less than a third of all aides and assistants work in the office of a medical practitioner. About an equal number are employed by hospitals, and a fifth work in nursing care facilities. The remainder work for family services, home health-care providers, or government agencies.
Because of limitations on insurance coverage, occupational therapists will most likely turn to assistants and aides to decrease the expense of services. After a therapist has met with a patient for evaluation and a treatment plan is in place, the assistant can follow the plan working directly with the patient.
The median annual salary of occupational therapist assistants is a little less than $50,000. Midrange income is between $40,000 and $58,000 a year. Those in the bottom 10 percent in income earn less than $32,000, while those in the top 10 percent earn more than $65,000.
The median annual salary of occupational therapist aides is less than $27,000. Those in the midrange earn between $22,000 and $34,000. The lowest-paid 10 percent earn less than $20,000, while the highest 10 percent earn more than $47,000 a year.