What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy practitioners are health professionals who help individuals live as fully and independently as possible. They specialize in helping individuals who are sick, disabled, or developmentally challenged develop the skills they need for everyday life. OT Intervention focuses on occupations that can be as basic as getting dressed and eating or as complex as socializing and holding a job.
Where am I most likely to work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)?
OTAs most commonly work in:
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Home health
- Acute care settings
- Outpatient settings
Source: NBCOT 2019
What would I do as an occupational therapy assistant?
OTAs work with individuals of all ages, with a wide range of conditions. A few examples include:
- helping a grandfather who has had a stroke and cannot use one side of his body learn to dress himself again
- running a group to help young children with autism learn to interact and play with each other
- showing a retired worker who has breathing problems due to COPD how to conserve energy so he can do more of the gardening he loves
- helping a mother with depression find a sense of purpose and motivation so she can return to caring for her family
- teaching an office worker with arthritis how to use his arms and joints in a way that reduces pain and increases his ability to continue working
- instructing the family of an elderly mother with Alzheimer’s disease how to change her home to keep her independent as long as possible
- providing a child with severe movement difficulties due to cerebral palsy specially adapted equipment so he can feed himself
- teaching a man with disabling anxiety to use relaxation techniques and stress management skills so he can go out into the community again
- helping a second grader with learning disabilities write more effectively so she can do her homework by herself
What is the job market for OTAs?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Overall employment of occupational therapy assistants and aides is projected to grow 25 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.” Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities.
Are there evening, weekend, or online classes available as part of the OTA program?
While some general education classes (such as English 15, Psych 100, HDFS 129, etc.) can be taken as evening or online classes, core OTA classes are not offered as evening classes, nor are they available online. All OTA classes are offered during the day only.
Do I need to be full time to complete the OTA program?
For students who have general education courses completed prior to starting the OTA program, they may be able to be considered part time. It is important to note, however, that in the third and fourth semesters you are required to take a minimum of three OTA classes at the same time. Also, the final semester involves full-time (unpaid) fieldwork that follows the hours of the site you are placed at (typically eight-hour shifts between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.). Students are strongly advised not to work while doing this final semester of full-time fieldwork.
What is typical compensation for OTAs in Pennsylvania?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a mean hourly wage for an OTA in Pennsylvania of $30.56 and an annual mean wage of $63,560. Typically, a new OTA graduate can expect to make between $40,000 -$50,000 for their first job in the Berks County region.
What is the difference between an occupational therapy assistant and an occupational therapist?
By licensure law, an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) must work under the supervision of an Occupational Therapist (OT). The OT will be the individual who leads the intervention process and is the occupational therapy practitioner most likely to evaluate, write treatment reports, create goals for intervention, and make final recommendations for discharge. The OTA and OT both directly work with patients to achieve their therapeutic goals. An effective OT/OTA team collaborates to provide the most effective treatment possible. An OTA will need to utilize clinical reasoning skills under the supervision of the OT to decide what methods will best help a client meet their OT goals.
Is it possible to continue my education and become an occupational therapist after finishing the OTA program at Penn State Berks?
While there is no requirement to get any other degree beyond the associate’s degree in occupational therapy, there are several options for students wishing to continue their education. Some students enter a full-time master’s program in occupational therapy; they may do this immediately after graduating with their associate's degree in OT or at some point later in their career. Other students pursue their master’s degree in OT through a weekend program that allows them to work full time while going to school on the weekends.
I already have a baccalaureate degree in another field but I am interested in occupational therapy. Does it make sense for me to get my associate’s in OTA?
Students with baccalaureate degrees in related fields such as psychology, kinesiology, etc., sometimes want to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. One option is to get an associate degree in occupational therapy and become an OTA. This tends to be the faster and sometimes less expensive option. Other students decide to spend the extra time and effort to get their master’s in occupational therapy since that is their ultimate goal. This decision is a personal one based on factors such as time, cost, location, compensation, and other issues. It is important that anyone weighing these options gather information from both associate and master’s degree programs so they can make the decision that best meets their needs.