- Qualifications of occupational therapy assistants are regulated by the States and these workers must complete an associates degree or certificate program. In contrast, occupational therapy aides usually receive most of their training on the job.
- Aides are not licensed, so by law they are not allowed to perform as wide a range of tasks as occupational therapy assistants do.
- Employment is projected to increase over the 1998-2008 period, but due to the effects of Federal limits on reimbursement for therapy services, the majority of expected employment growth is expected to occur during the second half of the projection period.
Occupational therapy assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists to provide rehabilitative services to persons with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental impairments. The ultimate goal is to improve clients quality of life by helping them compensate for limitations. For example, occupational therapy assistants help injured workers re-enter the labor force by helping them improve their motor skills or help persons with learning disabilities increase their independence, by teaching them to prepare meals or use public transportation.
Occupational therapy assistants help clients with rehabilitative activities and exercises outlined in a treatment plan developed in collaboration with an occupational therapist. Activities range from teaching the proper method of moving from a bed into a wheelchair, to the best way to stretch and limber the muscles of the hand. Assistants monitor an individuals activities to make sure they are performed correctly and to provide encouragement. They also record their clients progress for use by the occupational therapist. If the treatment is not having the intended effect, or the client is not improving as expected, the therapist may alter the treatment program in hopes of obtaining better results. In addition, occupational therapy assistants document billing of the clients health insurance provider.
Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks. Duties can include scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, restocking or ordering depleted supplies, and filling out insurance forms or other paperwork. Aides are not licensed, so by law they are not allowed to perform as wide a range of tasks as occupational therapy assistants do.
Occupational therapy assistants and aides usually work during the day, but may occasionally work evenings or weekends, to accommodate a clients schedule. These workers should be in good physical condition, because they are on their feet for long periods of time and may be asked to help lift and move clients or equipment.
Occupational therapy assistants and aides held 19,000 jobs in 1998. About 4 out of 10 assistants and aides worked in offices of occupational therapists; and about 3 out of 10 worked in hospitals. The remainder worked primarily in nursing and personal care facilities, offices and clinics of physicians, social services agencies, outpatient rehabilitation centers, and home health agencies.
Persons must complete an associates degree or certificate program from an accredited community college or technical school to qualify for occupational therapy assistant jobs. In contrast, occupational therapy aides usually receive most of their training on the job.
There were 165 accredited occupational therapy assistant programs in the United States in 1999. The first year of study typically involves an introduction to healthcare, basic medical terminology, anatomy, and physiology. In the second year, courses are more rigorous and usually include occupational therapy courses in areas such as mental health, gerontology, and pediatrics. Students must also complete supervised fieldwork in a clinic or community setting. Applicants to occupational therapy assistant programs can improve their chances of admission by taking high school courses in biology and health and by performing volunteer work in nursing homes, occupational or physical therapists offices, or elsewhere in the healthcare field.
Occupational therapy assistants are regulated in most States, and must pass a national certification examination after they graduate. Those who pass the test are awarded the title of certified occupational therapy assistant.
Occupational therapy aides usually receive most of their training on the job. Qualified applicants must have a high school diploma, strong interpersonal skills, and a desire to help people in need. Applicants may increase their chances of getting a job by volunteering their services, thus displaying initiative and aptitude to the employer.
Assistants and aides must be responsible, patient, and willing to take directions and work as part of a team. Furthermore, they should be caring and want to help people who are not able to help themselves.
Employment of occupational therapy assistants and aides is expected to grow
much faster than the average for all occupations through 2008. Growth will result from an aging population, including the baby-boom cohort, which will probably need substantial occupational therapy services. Demand will also result from advances in medicine that allow more people with critical problems to survive and then need rehabilitative therapy.
Employment growth would be even faster, except for Federal legislation imposing limits on reimbursement for therapy services. However, at the same time, third-party payers, concerned with rising health care costs are beginning to encourage occupational therapists to delegate more of the hands-on therapy work to occupational therapy assistants and aides. By having assistants and aides work more closely with clients under the guidance of a therapist, the cost of therapy should be more modest than otherwise.
Median annual earnings of occupational therapy assistants and aides were $28,690 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $20,050 and $36,900 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,000 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $45,740 a year. Median annual earnings of occupational therapy assistants and aides in 1997 were $32,200 in offices of other health care practitioners and $27,000 in hospitals.
Occupational therapy assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists. Other occupations in the healthcare field that work under the supervision of professionals include dental assistants, medical assistants, optometric assistants, pharmacy assistants, and physical therapy assistants and aides.
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Information on a career as an occupational therapy assistant and a list of accredited programs can be obtained by sending a self-addressed label and $5.00 to:
- The American Occupational Therapy Association, 4720 Montgomery Ln., P.O. Box 31220, Bethesda, MD 20824-1220. Internet: http://www.aota.org
An industry employing occupational therapy assistants and aides that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Health services