Occupational Therapy Technician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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An occupational therapy technician's median salary is about $56,000. Is it worth the training requirements? See real job duties and get the truth about career outlook to see if becoming an occupational therapy technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Occupational Therapy Technician Career

Occupational therapy (OT) technicians, better known as assistants, work with occupational therapists to implement therapy plans that aim to restore and maintain a patient's ability to function independently on a daily basis. Check out these pros and cons to see if a career in occupational therapy could work for you:

Pros of an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career
High-growth occupation (41% increase from 2012-2022)*
Above-average pay (median annual salary of about $56,950 in 2014)*
Minimal educational requirements (associate degree is the most common requirement)*
Opportunity to improve patients' lives*

Cons of an Occupational Therapy Assistant Career
Physical demands when helping patients (kneeling and lifting)*
Possible evening or weekend hours*
Licensing* and certification** are commonly required
May be required to perform administrative tasks*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job Postings from CareerBuilder.com.

Job Description

At a healthcare facility, therapy teams work to bring patients back to optimal health. Occupational therapy focuses on regaining daily living and working skills so that patients can live independently without care. Your job as an OT assistant would be to implement the therapy plan devised by the occupational therapist, running through various activities tailored to each patient. You would record each patient's progress and alert the therapist to any necessary changes to the regimen.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that occupational therapy assistants made a median wage of about $56,950. The BLS predicted a 41% increase in employment from 2012-2022, which can be linked to the growth of the number of elderly who require more care due to debilitation and limiting medical conditions. Nursing care facilities are one of the major industries that employs occupational therapy assistants.

Education and Training Requirements

To begin a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you typically need to complete a 2-year associate degree program. The American Occupational Therapy Association's Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredits training programs for OT assistants. The coursework for these programs usually includes medical basics, occupational therapy techniques and supervised clinical experience. Licensure for OT assistants is required in most states. In order to earn licensure, you would need to complete an accredited program, pass a test and satisfy any other state-specific requirements.

In addition to education and licensure, you should possess a certain set of skills to become an occupational therapist assistant. These skills can include strength, compassion, attention to detail and good communication.

What Are Employers Looking for?

Because OT assistants work closely with occupational therapists, employers look for team players with good communication skills and positive attitudes. Typically, you will be expected to hold certification through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), which offers the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential. Check out these summaries of job postings open in February 2012:

  • A hospital in Texas was looking to hire an occupational therapy assistant to aid the occupational therapist team in their work with adult and geriatric patients. The applicant needed to be a COTA, and one year of relevant work experience was preferred.
  • A rehabilitation facility in Florida wanted a COTA with basic computer skills, the physical ability to lift 50 pounds and a community-centered work ethic.
  • A senior living center in Kentucky was searching for a COTA who was willing to work evening and weekend hours in a holistic therapy environment.

How to Stand out in the Field

When you have completed an ACOTE-accredited program, you will be eligible to test for certification as a COTA from the NBCOT. This certification is voluntary, but is required by many employers. When employers do not require this credential, it can still serve to demonstrate your industry-recognized competency in this field.

Professional development units are required when you renew your license or COTA credential, so you can get started in continuing education classes, conferences and seminars right away. Learning about new developments in the healthcare systems, initiatives in the therapy field and techniques for occupational therapists and assistants can help you perform your job better and also demonstrate your knowledge and capability to a potential employer.

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Assistant

If you're not sure that occupational therapy is the right path for you but you'd still like to work in the healthcare industry, you could consider a career as a medical assistant. Medical assistants perform both administrative and clinical duties in doctor's offices. You can train to become a medical assistant through a 1-year certificate or 2-year associate degree program. The BLS reported that medical assistants, whose employment is projected to increase by 31% from 2010-2020, made a median wage of $29,000 in 2011.

Athletic Trainer

If you're interested in helping people regain their physical capabilities, you could consider a career as an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers treat all kinds of patients for physical injuries. You could work at a healthcare facility or with a sports team. You may spend time outside, treating patients on the field, or on the road, attending out-of-town games with the team. Typically, an athletic trainer is required to hold a bachelor's degree in a subject like exercise science or kinesiology. The BLS reported in May 2011 that athletic trainers made a median annual wage of $42,000. Athletic trainers are expected to see a 30% increase in job growth from 2010-2020.

Occupational Therapist

If you're interested in occupational therapy, want to earn more money and don't mind obtaining additional education, you might consider becoming an occupational therapist. These professionals need to earn at least a master's degree from an accredited school and gain licensure, but their median annual salary was about $74,000 in 2011, according to the BLS. From 2010-2020, they're expected to see a 33% growth in employment.

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
  • MSHS in Laboratory Medicine
  • Graduate Certificate in Clinical Operations and Healthcare Management

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American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

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Kaplan University

  • MS in Nursing
  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Medical Assisting

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Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • MBA: Health Systems Management
  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Health Administration

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Keiser University

  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

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