Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a certified occupational therapy assistant's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job duties and see the pros and cons of becoming a certified occupational therapy assistant.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant

Certified occupational therapy assistants (COTAs) help patients recover, improve and develop skills that are crucial to working and living. You can learn about the ups and downs to being a COTA by continuing to read below.

PROS of Being a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant
Income is above the national average (around $57,000 as of May 2014)*
Employment growth was projected to be much faster than the average from 2012-2022*
Associate's degree is the minimum amount of education necessary for this career*
Career advancement options with additional education*

CONS of Being a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant
Weekend and evening work assignments can occur based on the needs of a patient*
State licensing is needed in order to work*
Long periods of standing, stooping and kneeling are necessary when helping patients*
Certification is required to call yourself a COTA*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Occupational Information

Job Description

COTAs work with aides and under the supervision of occupational therapists. The clients you work with typically have disabilities, illnesses or injuries that hinder them. The job of the COTA is to help patients acquire the skills necessary for living and working in an everyday environment. To accomplish this, the COTA educates patients on different techniques and pieces of equipment designed to help them. As patients progress in their treatment, you'll record the data and report your findings to the occupational therapist supervising you. Other administrative work related to the care of the patient is performed by the COTA as necessary.

Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014 reported that occupational therapy assistants earned about $57,000 on average annually. This resulted in this occupation's hourly wages being $27 or so. When you look at the top ten percentile of wage estimates for occupational therapy assistants, you'll see that some people in this field made around $76,000. Nevada, California, Maryland, New Jersey and Texas were the states that paid the highest annual salaries on average for occupational therapy assistants.

Job Outlook

The BLS expected much faster than average employment growth from 2012-2022 for occupational therapy assistants. This growth was projected to be about 43%. This demand was a projection of occupational therapists using more occupational therapy assistants to help reduce costs. A growing elderly population in need of occupational therapy services was expected to contribute to this employment growth as well.

Career Requirements

Licensing and Education

To become a COTA, you must graduate from an accredited associate's degree program. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education handles this accreditation. These programs can be found at community colleges or vocational schools. When enrolled in one of these programs, you'll need to take classes in pediatric health, psychology and biology. Field experience is generally a requirement as well.

In addition, the majority of states require COTAs to be licensed. To earn your license, you must have graduated from an accredited educational program and passed an exam. In some cases, you'll need to earn continuing education requirements to keep your license.

What're Employers Looking For?

Many employers look for COTAs with the proper interpersonal communication skills. Because you spend a lot of your time working with patients, it is important to be friendly and encouraging. By having a positive attitude, you can help contribute to developing a good reputation for your employer as well as work at creating a supportive environment for patient recovery. You can learn what real employers wanted in COTAs by reading the information presented below, which was summarized from November 2012 job postings.

  • CPR certification was a necessary requirement for a position in Arizona calling for a COTA.
  • Work experience in rehabilitation with adults was the preference for a hospital in Texas.
  • In Illinois, a certified occupational therapy assistant called for someone who has at least a year of experience preferably in a clinical environment.
  • Previous pediatric experience is preferred for a certified occupational therapy assistant opening in Ohio.

How to Stand Out

COTAs have to acquire voluntary certification in order to call themselves certified. By taking the time to earn this certification, you stand out from other occupational therapy assistants who can't call themselves certified. The first step to earning your certification is graduating from an educational program that has been accredited. Then, you must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's examination. A character review is also necessary. To maintain your certification, you have to earn professional development units (PDU) prior to your certification expiring.

Other Career Choices

A career similar to COTA, but with even greater projected growth from 2010-2020, is physical therapist assistant. Under the supervision of a physical therapist, you'll help patients manage their pain and regain their movement while they're recovering from illnesses, surgery or injuries. You'll work directly with a patient to help him or her complete exercises and treat him or her with massages or stretches. From 2010-2020, the BLS projected an employment growth of 46% for physical therapist assistants. As of May 2011, physical therapist assistants made roughly $51,000 on average annually.

Some COTAs interested in better pay and advancement opportunities might look into becoming occupational therapists. In this role, you'll manage occupational therapy aides and assistants in their work. You'll help come up with treatments for patients that are appropriate to their situations. The BLS found that occupational therapists had average incomes of about $75,000 as of May 2011. A 33% growth in employment was expected for occupational therapists from 2010-2020.

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