Occupational therapy aides, or OTAs, help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy aides perform support activities, working under the director of an occupational therapist.
What is an Occupational Therapy Aide? Career Overview
Occupational therapy is the practice of rehabilitating people who can no longer perform daily living activities as the result of an illness, injury, or disability. Unlike an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant, an occupational therapy aide does not provide direct patient care. Rather, they facilitate treatment by supporting the professionals who do.
Occupational therapy aides work in occupational therapists’ offices, in hospitals, and in nursing care facilities. Occupational therapy aides spend much of their time on their feet while providing therapy to patients.
How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide
Occupational therapy aides typically need a high school diploma or equivalent and receive training on the job.
The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $29,230 in May 2019.
Overall employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to grow from faster than overage from 2019 to 2029. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities.
10 Facts About Occupational Therapy Aides
1. They May Have a Supporting Role, But Their Work is Critical
Occupational therapy aides do a multitude of tasks such as preparing treatment areas by setting up therapy equipment. They may also transport patients to and from the treatment area. They may be tasked with cleaning treatment areas and the equipment. Some OT Aides help patients with billing and insurance forms or schedule appointments and answer telephones.
2. Occupational Therapy Aides Held About 8,000 jobs in 2019.
The largest employers of occupational therapy aides were the following:
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||47%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||23|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||12|
3. You Spend Many Hours on Your Feet as an OT Aide
Occupational therapy aides spend most of the time on their feet while setting up equipment and moving patients to and from the treatment area. Frequent kneeling and stooping are also part of the job. You may also have to life patients, which can be physically demanding.
Unfortunately the physical movement of the job can lead to injury. In fact, occupational therapy aides have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations. So keep this in mind as you weigh your career options.
4. Occupational Aides Salary was $34,310 or $16.50 per hour in 2019
Although most occupational therapy aides work full time, they earn less than $40,000 a year on average. These workers may have to put in hours on weekends and evenings to accommodate patient schedules.
The highest paying state for occupational therapy aides was Washington state, according to OES data, with an average salary of $57,050. New York followed with $48,250. The highest paying cities were the Seattle metro area at over $66,000 and San Francisco metro area at just under $48,000 a year average salary.
5. To Become an Occupational Therapist Aide, You Need at Least a High School Diploma
Occupational therapy aide programs are not eligible for Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education accreditation. If you complete an occupational therapy aide program, you cannot sit for the national exam to become certified as an occupational therapy assistant.
If you’re interested in becoming an occupational therapy aide, you should know you don’t have to attend an occupational therapy aide school. But there are OT aide programs that can help you learn medical terminology, how to communicate effectively and perform basic duties of the job.
Tip to get hired as an OT aide: Some of the job listings we studied preferred candidates who have a bachelors degree in a related field. But many job listings wanted people who have prior volunteer experience working with people with disabilities.
Here is an example of a school that offers an occupational therapy aide program.
This 5-course program gets you familiar with the Activities of Daily Living therapy and adaptive equipment, medical and body systems terminology, therapeutic treatment, and how to communicate with patients, the rehabilitative team, and other people you work with.
If you pay in full, the program costs around $700.
A specialized program or certification is not required, but a drug screen might be.
6. An Occupational Therapy Aide Vs Occupational Therapy Assistant: Big Differences
|Occupational Therapy Aides||Occupational Therapy Assistants|
|Not directly involved with patient care||Help patients with therapeutic activities|
|Need at least high school diploma or GED||Need an associate’s degree from an accredited training program|
|No license or registration needed||Must be licensed or registered by the state where they work|
|Earn an average of $34,310 yearly salary||Earn an average salary of $61,880 a year|
7. OT Aides Go By Different Names in the Job Search
- Other titles for this job include:
- Certified Occupational Rehabilitation Aide (CORA)
- Direct Service Professional (DSP)
- Direct Support Professional (DSP)
- Occupational Rehabilitation Aide
- Occupational Therapist Aide (OT Aide)
- Occupational Therapy Aide (OT Aide)
- Rehabilitation Aide (Rehab Aide)
- Rehabilitation Services Aide
- Restorative Aide
8. You’ll Need Excellent Listening Skills for this Job
In our study of hundreds of occupational therapy aide job listings, listening skills and communication skills topped the list of requests from employers. These are soft skills, meaning that you can use them across many different professions. While you can always build on these skills, they are more linked with your preferences and personality than something you learn in a class.
Specifically you’ll need to be able to
- Listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
- Be able to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.
- You should also be able to communicate through speaking information and ideas so others will understand.
- Be able to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
- Be able to speak clearly so others can understand you.
- You’ll also have to be observant to non-verbal cues as many patients will not be able to speak clearly or at all.
- Pay strong attention to detail and follow instructions, no matter how nuanced.
Getting hired tip: Some OT Aide jobs require you to have CPR certification for all age groups. This is good knowledge to have, so contact your local Red Cross or you can get CPR certified online. Just make sure your certification matches the requirements of the job posting.
9. This is a Good Career Change or High School Grad Job
If you are starting out in your career and want to get work experience and see if being an occupational therapist is something you would like to do, being an aide is a foot in the door. Many of the job listings were urgently hiring. This means it could be relatively quick to apply, interview and get hired. Many of the jobs offered benefits as well.
As a career changer, you have developed your soft skills such as working with people and communicating effectively. You also have work experience that, even if it is not related to OT, it shows you can follow directions and fulfill responsibilities.
As a high school graduate, you can try on a career in OT before you invest time and money pursuing credentials and a degree. You can learn valuable people skills, how to work in a professional environment and build your resume.
10. OT Aide is an INFJ Job Match
Personality, career interests and work values all work together to create job satisfaction. Being an occupational therapy aide is a career fit for the INFJ personality type. Now if you are not that personality type, don’t know or want to know your Myers-Briggs personality type, that’s ok. You can also measure job compatibility with your career interests and work values.
Career interests: This job appeals to people who want social interaction and direct contact with people. Being an OT aide is categorized as a Social and Realistic job. This means you have a lot of interpersonal interaction and hands-on work. You can find out what your career interests are by taking this career quiz.
An INFJ personality wants to have meaningful connections with people. They want to make a difference in people’s lives and they need work that supports those goals.
Work values: Work values are what you value most from a job. What do you need from your work and the people you work for? Being an occupational therapy aide fulfills the need for the following:
- Relationships — To provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.
- Support —To have supportive management that stands behind employees.
- Achievement — Goals and results that allow you to use your strongest abilities, giving a feeling of accomplishment.
Job seekers who want to work with people and for people in a meaningful way, as a team, this job could be a good fit. If you want to have a clear set of goals and work to achieve them and have the patience and compassion to put the needs of others first, you may enjoy this service career.
Jobs Similar to Occupational Therapy Aide
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, keep records, and schedule appointments.
Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in hospitals, offices of physicians, and other healthcare facilities.
Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.
Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.
Physical therapist assistants and aides are supervised by physical therapists to help patients regain movement and manage pain after injuries and illnesses.
Psychiatric technicians and aides care for people who have mental illness and developmental disabilities.