Occupational therapy assistant (OTA) is a growing field that relies on professionals with a diverse set of medical and interpersonal skills. OTAs use these skills to aid individuals experiencing physical difficulties that affect their daily lives. Those experiencing some form of chronic illness, disability, or disorder preventing or hindering daily activities may benefit from the targeted therapeutic interventions provided by OTAs.
After completing a two-year college program, OTAs can earn a high-paying job in a growing healthcare job market with their in-demand degree. They have the opportunity to work in a variety of workplace environments, delivering specialized care to patients suffering from chronic physical complaints.
What does an occupational therapy assistant do?
The OTA’s job description includes working alongside registered occupational therapists (OT) to deliver treatment plans to patients receiving specialized medical interventions. These treatments address physical and cognitive needs to alleviate short- and long-term patient concerns.
In many states, the OTA’s job responsibility includes reporting directly to OTs to provide treatment in all environments. However, in some states, OTAs may work under the supervision of medical doctors. In select circumstances, OTAs can work independently but this is not the norm.
An OTA’s work day depends on the type of treatment they are delivering and the patient they are working with. Each treatment mode could require a different implementation depending on what setting they are in.
OTs and OTAs work together to provide five primary modes of treatment:
- Activities and occupations
- Preparatory methods and tasks
- Education and training
- Group intervention
In addition to delivering treatments, OTAs may help with a number of other tasks. These include patient intake, treatment plan design, patient education, and record-keeping.
Where OTAs work
OTAs can contribute to a variety of therapeutic work environments and practice settings. These work environments typically contain a specific patient population with its own set of needs.
OTAs can work in patients’ homes to assist them in living independently. OTAs provide a range of in-home services to a number of patient populations. These can include the elderly, those living with disabilities, and those with diabetes or other chronic illnesses. Services in this setting might include teaching patients self-monitoring techniques, meal planning, personal hygiene, and appropriate levels of physical activity.
Hospital patients may require assistance and education as they recover from illness or surgery. Activities like getting in and out of bed, personal hygiene, and self-care, as well as mobility around the hospital can help put patients on the road to recovery. This is particularly important if they expect a lengthy hospital stay.
There are many different types of rehabilitation centers. Some may be run by OTs and provide occupational therapy services exclusively. Others may provide more comprehensive rehabilitation services including physical therapy in addition to OT.
Rehabilitation may also refer to environments such as substance abuse treatment facilities. OTAs work with those in alcohol or drug recovery there who have suffered illness or injury as a result of their substance abuse. It is at these facilities OTAs work to improve patients’ cognitive and physical health.
OTAs may find themselves working in primary or secondary schools where they help children socialize, create with their peers, and get more from the school experience overall. OTAs work with children who live with developmental disorders, like Down syndrome or cerebral palsy, build skills and reduce stressors to participate more fully in the classroom.
Assisted living facilities
Patients in assisted living facilities require assistance in daily activities. OTAs support them in maintaining their independence and quality of life as they age. OTAs may assist with tasks like cooking and cleaning, as well as social and recreational activities.
Workers in environments such as factories or warehouses are prone to injury. Individuals there can experience repetitive strain from completing the same movement many times a day. OTAs help alleviate employee complaints so they can return to work. This can be a boost to the employee’s work and their overall quality of life. OTAs may work with employers to educate employees on ergonomic techniques and equipment to avoid injury.
Who do OTAs help?
An OTA’s responsibilities are to work directly with the following patient populations to meet needs within the appropriate treatment environments.
Children and young adults
OTAs work with children who are at risk for disability or illness. They may perform treatments designed to improve motor skills, cognitive skills, and sensory processing. These interventions can help minimize developmental delays.
OTAs help dementia patients through behavioral interventions, addressing personality and cognitive changes to improve healthspan and mood.
Those receiving health and wellness services
OTAs can also work in commercial health and wellness clinics. They teach how to manage pain and inflammation with exercise. They may also demonstrate the use of orthotic devices to help patients control pain.
Those receiving mental health services
OTAs teach individuals with traumatic brain injuries how to be independent through self-care activities such as eating, dressing, and working.
Those with injuries or disabilities
OTAs help people overcome physical challenges in these settings by supporting patient use of mobility-enhancing equipment like railings on bathtubs or foot straps to bicycle pedals.
With various industries, employers, and workers
OTAs help employees with various work-related injuries through supervised therapeutic exercises, work reconditioning, and on-site interventions.