Occupational therapy is a compassionate, hands-on career where you can make a difference. And it doesn’t take long to break into this field. If you’re wondering how to become an occupational therapist assistant or asking, “How long does it take to become an occupational therapy assistant (OTA)?”, there is good news!
While occupational therapists require a master’s degree or more to practice, occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) only need an associate degree to enter the workforce. Therefore, it typically takes around two years to become an OTA. Without attending medical school, you can still have a meaningful impact on patients’ daily lives.
The Roles and Responsibilities of an OTA
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) states, “Occupational therapy enables people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent — or live better with — injury, illness or disability.”
Occupational therapy assistants help patients progress and preserve the skillsets needed for daily independent living and working.
Common OTA tasks and to-dos include:
- Administering essential emotional support and inspiration during recovery
- Collaborating with occupational therapists to carry out patient treatment plans — from proper stretching and movement exercises, to programs for patients with developmental disabilities, promoting coordination, socialization, and life skills
- Educating patients and caregivers on using medical devices that make daily living more manageable
- Observing and accommodating patient activities and progress, providing effective feedback
How Long Does it Take to Complete an OTA Program and License?
Due to the range of duties, occupational therapy assistants must complete specialized training. Specifically, OTAs need to complete and pass an accredited OTA program and a number of clinical hours required by their state.
As noted above, occupational therapy assistant programs are typically offered at the associate degree level. OTA programs take about two years to complete. Some OTA programs offer a flexible or faster-paced curriculum for those eager to start working.
At Goodwin University, full-time students can complete their associate degree in as few as 16 months. Goodwin’s flexible OTA program offers evening and weekend classes so that students can study on their schedule, at their convenience.
In an occupational therapy assistant program, students learn everything from case studies, group dynamics, and medical terms to lessons in lifespan development—including principles of pediatric, adult, and geriatric populations.
After receiving an associate degree, OTA school graduates are adequately prepared to complete their licensure exam.
In order to begin their practice, aspiring OTAs must successfully complete the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
Applying to sit for the COTA exam requires a just a few steps, such as creating an online account and submitting official transcripts. Once an application is approved, one must schedule to complete the exam within three months. Individuals will have four total hours to complete the exam, which consists of 200 multiple-choice questions administered in a computer format.
Upon passing the exam, graduates will become certified as an OTA and can apply for a state-certified OTA license. Once an OTA obtains their state license, they must adhere to state-required continuing education mandates to maintain their credentials.
Why Becoming an OTA is Worth the Time Commitment
Becoming an OTA is one of the fastest ways to break into the healthcare field, as it takes just a couple of years to do. However, if you are hesitant to get started, consider the below benefits.
Most occupational therapy assistants are proud of their profession — educating and encouraging patients to complete functional tasks and, in turn, enhancing their quality of life.
Additional advantages of working as an OTA include:
- A healthcare career that caters to creativity — OTAs help implement inventive treatment plans for patients, adapting to each person and their unique needs.
- A profession fostering patient-provider relationships — OTAs are outgoing professionals who develop a deep rapport with people to produce actionable results.
- Working with assorted patients across the lifespan — OTAs are not limited to specific patient populations and can help people of all ages, from pediatrics to geriatrics.
OTA Career Settings
One added benefit of becoming an OTA is the variety of options available. Certified OTAs primarily work in OT offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities. However, various career options are available, and OTAs can also serve in private homes, schools, speech pathology centers, and more.
Examples of OTA environments, patients, and practices include:
- Workplaces with progressively aging populations — OTAs support dementia patients with memory loss and address any personality changes with caregivers
- Environments with pain management populations — OTAs instruct people with arthritis on how to minimize and manage inflammation
- Career sites with mental health populations — OTAs teach patients with PTSD emotional, sensory, and social regulation
- Workplaces with disabled and rehabilitated populations — OTAs help people who have lost limbs overcome physical challenges like adjusting to prosthetics
- Environments with industry-centered populations — OTAs assist injured employees in managing work-related accidents through on-site interventions
OTA Salary Benefits
A career as an OTA is rewarding personally, but also financially. OTA graduates can receive a return on their educational investment.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for OTAs is $61,730, while the median yearly salary for OTAs living in Connecticut is $67,090.
The Future of the OTA Field
The upcoming job outlook for OTAs is also optimistic. From 2020 to 2030, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the OTA field to grow an incredible 34 percent, accounting for 8,800 job openings each year over the decade.
Becoming an OTA is an excellent, in-demand career choice with various professional settings and a satisfying paycheck — especially for those looking to launch into the healthcare field fast. And, it only takes two years to become an occupational therapy assistant.
Who says you need to invest many years in medical school, to launch a caring career you love? Become an occupational therapy assistant in just 16 months, through Goodwin’s flexible OTA program.
Are you ready to advance your career as an occupational therapy assistant? Effectively empower and elevate the lives of patients. Learn more about an OTA education today!