Occupational therapy assistants and aides work with an Occupational Therapist to provide support and rehabilitative services to patients with physical, emotional, mental or developmental disabilities. They work with those who have been disabled since birth, as well as people who have sustained their disabilities as the result of an accident. Their goal is to follow through with treatment plans designed by the therapist by assisting the patient. They may use special devices with the exercise programs, such as special built-up silverware for stroke victims or braces for moving from one place to another.
While the majority of exercises performed are physical, many are also related to mental and emotional strengthening. Assistants work more directly with the patient, while the aide is usually responsible for equipment setup and maintenance. During the course of a treatment plan, the assistant is responsible for monitoring the progress and reporting to the therapist, in case the plan needs to be changed. This article will explain what is involved in becoming a part of this exciting career field.
Occupational Therapy Assistant Schools By State
Job growth is expected to be much faster than the average growth rate in other fields. This is mostly because of the aging population is higher in number than ever before. In addition to this, people who are aging are living longer. A high percentage of the people who require Occupational Therapists, Assistants and Aides are elderly. The government’s Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects the growth of Physical Therapy Assistants and Aides to increase by 30% between the decade of 2008 and 2018. Along with this data, it is also expected that those who have experience or formal training as a Physical Therapy Assistant or Aide will have a much higher chance of finding a job than those who only hold a high school diploma.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Both aides and assistants will be required to perform some tasks that may be physically demanding. Lifting equipment, bending, stooping, standing and sitting for long periods of time will be required. Pushing patients who are wheelchair-bound up inclines is another task that is commonly taxing. Use of proper back supports and assistive equipment when needed will be granted by the workplace by law. Working during evenings, holidays and weekends may be required, depending on individual office policy. Some aides and assistants work in hospital offices, while others work in home care or private offices.
Occupational therapy assistants are required to attend a college or vocational school that is accredited by ACOTE, or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. By doing so, the student will be eligible to take the national exam that is required for licensing purposes. There are currently over 135 accredited schools in the United States. The program of study lasts two years for full-time students. First-year studies include subjects such as medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, healthcare principles and if required, English. Second-year studies include courses that are applied to Occupational Therapy, such as mental health, physical disabilities, pediatrics, gerontology and psychology. A practical internship of at least 16 weeks in an approved clinic is also required. Aides do not have to receive training or licensing. They must hold a high school diploma to be eligible for employment. Aides learn their tasks by on-the-job experience and practical training. To better improve chances of entering the field through either route, students are encouraged to take extra courses in biology and health in high school. Volunteering at a medical care facility or rest home also improves chances for entering the field.
Licensing regulations vary by state; 40 of them require state licensing, so it is important to check the state of residency’s licensing division for details. Certification is granted to assistants after they satisfactorily complete schooling requirements and testing. National certification is separate from state certification in most cases, however some states find the national exam to satisfy their regulations also. Passing the national exam will result in receiving Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, or COTA, status. Assistants must complete mandatory continuing education credits each year to maintain both national and state licenses. There are no certifications for aides. This title is given upon hiring a person who has a desire to learn how to be an aide.
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ recent reports, the average annual wages of Occupational Therapy Assistants were $48,230. The lowest wages reported on this figure were less than $31,150, while the highest wages were over $65,160. Higher wages were reported by assistants who worked in home health care. The next highest-paying jobs were found in private offices, nursing facilities, hospitals and schools. Wages for aides in the same report averaged at $26,960 annually. The lowest wages on this report were less than $17,850, while the highest wages were above $46,910. Higher wages were found in specialty hospitals, followed by general hospitals, private offices, schools and nursing care facilities. Salaries are expected to increase with the rising need for both Physical Therapy Aides and Assistants. Usually health benefit offers are optimal and raises are given to meet cost of living increases.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/