Occupational therapy assistants, commonly called OTAs, play a critical role in the healthcare field. These professionals help improve patients’ quality of life, by working and rehabilitating the fine motor skills that are needed for daily functioning. Every day, OTAs can be found caring for patients that are limited by a physical illness, injury, emotional disorder, developmental disability, or even the aging process.
If you are considering a career in occupational therapy, you may be surprised to hear that the OTA path is one of the faster routes into the healthcare field. To become an occupational therapy assistant, you typically only need two years of education and training, combined with a license in the field. For those who are looking to make an impact and launch a rewarding career fast, becoming an OTA is an excellent path.
Now, how exactly do you become an occupational therapy assistant? Which requirements do you need to fulfill to become licensed in your state? Below, we break down the OTA requirements nationwide, as well as right here in Connecticut. We also walk you through the prerequisites for OTA school.
National Occupational Therapy Assistant Requirements
In the United States, occupational therapy assistants are required to have an associate degree from an accredited OTA program. Accreditation is granted by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), a function of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), and ensures that the program:
- Meets certain academic standards related to its curriculum, fieldwork, and faculty, and
- Satisfies the state’s educational requirements for occupational therapy assistants.
Associate degree programs generally take two years for aspiring OTAs. Though specific fieldwork requirements will vary by state, occupational therapy assistants are typically required to complete at least 16 hours of practical experience in the field, as part of their educational program.
Graduating from an accredited occupational therapy assistant school, with fieldwork experience, will qualify aspiring OTAs to take the certification exam. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination is required to earn the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) title and practice in every state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all states regulate the practice of OTAs and therefore require OTAs to become certified. They may also require OTAs to fulfill continuing education requirements. However, specific OTA requirements will vary by state.
Connecticut OTA Requirements
To become an occupational therapy assistant in Connecticut, you must fulfill the requirements below:
- Complete an associate degree in occupational therapy assisting. Again, this must be from a program that is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
- Complete at least eight (8) weeks of supervised field work experience during your academic or training program.
- Successfully pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification examination to become licensed.
- Apply for licensure after passing the NBCOT exam. In order to apply, you must submit:
- Official transcript verifying the OTA degree and date of graduation,
- Official report of your NBCOT examination scores (if the Department did not electronically receive them), and
- A completed application, which must be done online, and corresponding fee.
Like Connecticut, nearby states such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island also require state licensure in order to practice as an OTA.
Additionally, Connecticut OTAs are required to complete continuing education (CE) to maintain their licensure. This ensures they stay up to date on current practices, treatments, research, and ethical standards as they relate to occupational therapy. State-level CE requirements for OTAs can be found on the CT.gov website here.
Knowledge & Skills Requirements for Occupational Therapy Assistants
If you are just stepping into the field of occupational therapy, your first step is to meet the educational and technical requirements to become an OTA. Before you can do this, however, you must decide where you will pursue your degree. The occupational therapy assistant school you choose should be ACOTE-accredited, offer in-field experience, and assure that you’ll meet your state’s local OTA requirements upon completion of the program. You should also look for a program that is flexible, reputable, and offers a robust curriculum that will best prepare you for this field.
Occupational therapy assistants must be knowledgeable in the sciences, anatomy, and in patient care across different demographics. An OTA program that covers the following subjects will best prepare you for this field of work:
- Human biology
- Movement and function
- Behavioral health
- Occupational therapy assisting for adult populations
- Occupational therapy assisting for pediatric patients
- Occupational therapy assisting for geriatric patients
- Case studies across the lifespan
In addition, the OTA program should offer several semesters of fieldwork in practical OTA settings. This hands-on experience, and working alongside certified professionals, will allow you to apply your learnings in a real-world setting and develop necessary skills like:
- Adaptability and flexibility when treating patients
- Interpersonal skills with both patients and team members
- Attention to detail, particularly during patient interactions
- Analytical skills to evaluate clinical information
- Clinical skills in functional activities, vocational training, therapeutic modalities
Requirements to Get Into OTA Training School
Now that you know the requirements needed to become an occupational therapy assistant, you must take the steps to start the process. And as noted above, education is number-one. Different OTA programs will have different enrollment requirements, so it is important to talk to an admissions counselor before applying to any school. At Goodwin University, aspiring OTA students must complete the following requirements as part of the admissions process:
- Complete the general application for admission into Goodwin University, then
- Complete the Occupational Therapy Assistant program application. This should include:
- Your official high school transcript or GED/HiSET, and
- Official college transcripts, if applicable.
- Have accomplished a cumulative 7 GPA either in:
- The last twelve college credits taken, or
- On high school transcripts if no college courses have been taken.
- Complete the University Placement Evaluations. Any foundational course requirements (as indicated by the test results) must be completed before entering the OTA program.
- All prerequisite and general education course requirements must be completed prior to applying to the OTA program.
- Complete observation hours or, for Spring 2021 applications only, watch a short video and complete a set of questions (due to COVID-19 restrictions).
- Interview with the program director and complete a personal essay telling us why you wish to become an occupational therapy assistant.
Fulfill the Requirements and Fulfill Your Career Goals
If becoming an occupational therapy assistant is your dream, there is no better time to get started. Employment of occupational therapy assistants is expected to grow 35 percent between 2019 and 2029, which is almost nine times faster than the average for all occupations. Nationwide, this will amount to approximately 16,300 job openings for OTAs over the next several years.
By taking the steps to fulfill your state’s OTA requirements now, you will be well-prepared to enter the field in just a couple years’ time. At Goodwin University, OTA students are able to complete their degree in just 16 months full-time. This includes three sessions of in-field experience, so that you can get into this in-demand field fast.
If you are interested in learning more about the OTA program at Goodwin University, please do not hesitate to contact us. Call 800-889-3282 or request more information online today.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.