Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Summary

occupational therapy assistants and aides image
Occupational therapy aides transport patients to and from treatment areas.
Quick Facts: Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides
2015 Median Pay $54,520 per year
$26.21 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training See How to Become One
Number of Jobs, 2014 41,900
Job Outlook, 2014-24 40% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2014-24 16,800

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Work Environment

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work primarily in occupational therapists’ offices, in hospitals, and in nursing care facilities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet, setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, working with patients.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. In most states, occupational therapy assistants must be licensed. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Pay

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants and aides was $54,520 in May 2015.

Job Outlook

Employment of occupational therapy assistants and aides is projected to grow 40 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of occupational therapy assistants and aides with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about occupational therapy assistants and aides by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides Do About this section

Occupational therapy assistants and aides
Occupational therapy aides may handle some clerical tasks, like answering calls from patients and scheduling appointments.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.

Duties

Occupational therapy assistants typically do the following:

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment—for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier
  • Record patients’ progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks

Occupational therapy aides typically do the following:

  • Prepare treatment areas, such as setting up therapy equipment
  • Transport patients
  • Clean treatment areas and equipment
  • Help patients with billing and insurance forms
  • Perform clerical tasks, including scheduling appointments and answering telephones

Occupational therapy assistants collaborate with occupational therapists to develop and carry out a treatment plan for each patient. Activities described in plans range from teaching the proper way for patients to move from a bed into a wheelchair to advising patients on the best way to stretch their muscles. For example, an occupational therapy assistant might work with injured workers to help them get back into the workforce by teaching them how to work around lost motor skills. Occupational therapy assistants also may work with people who have learning disabilities, teaching them skills that allow them to be more independent.

Assistants monitor activities to make sure that patients are doing them correctly. They record the patient’s progress and provide feedback to the occupational therapist so that the therapist can change the treatment plan if the patient is not getting the desired results.

Occupational therapy aides typically prepare materials and assemble equipment used during treatment. They may assist patients with moving to and from treatment areas. After a therapy session, aides clean the treatment area, put away equipment, and gather laundry.

Occupational therapy aides also fill out insurance forms and other paperwork and are responsible for a range of clerical tasks, such as scheduling appointments, answering the telephone, and monitoring inventory levels.

Work Environment About this section

occupational therapy assistants and aides image
Some occupational therapy assistants and aides work with students in schools.

Occupational therapy assistants held about 33,000 jobs in 2014. Occupational therapy aides held about 8,800 jobs in 2014. 

The industries that employed the most occupational therapy assistants in 2014 were as follows:

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 40%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 18
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Home healthcare services 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 5

The industries that employed the most occupational therapy aides in 2014 were as follows:  

Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 36%
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 15
Social assistance 6
Educational services; state, local, and private 4

Occupational therapy assistants and aides work primarily in occupational therapists’ offices, hospitals, and nursing care facilities.

Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time on their feet, setting up equipment and, in the case of assistants, working with patients. Constant kneeling and stooping are part of the job, as is the need to sometimes lift patients.

Work Schedules

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients’ schedules.

How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant or Aide About this section

Occupational therapy assistants and aides
Occupational therapy aides help patients with billing and insurance forms.

Occupational therapy assistants need an associate’s degree from an accredited occupational therapy assistant program. They also must be licensed in most states. Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent.

Education and Training

Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate’s degree from an accredited program. Occupational therapy assistant programs are commonly found in community colleges and technical schools. In 2014, there were more than 200 occupational therapy assistant programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, a branch of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

These programs generally require 2 years of full-time study and include instruction in subjects such as psychology, biology, and pediatric health. In addition to taking coursework, occupational therapy assistants must complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on work experience.

People interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant should take high school courses in biology and health education. They also can increase their chances of getting into a community college or technical school program by doing volunteer work in a healthcare setting, such as a nursing care facility, an occupational therapist’s office, or a physical therapist’s office.

Occupational therapy aides typically have a high school diploma or equivalent. They are trained on the job under the supervision of more experienced assistants or aides. Training can last from several days to a few weeks and covers a number of topics, including the setting up of therapy equipment and infection control procedures, among others. Previous work experience in healthcare, as well as certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and basic life support (BLS), may be helpful in getting a job.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Occupational therapy assistants and aides frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and have the ability to encourage others.

Detail oriented. Occupational therapy assistants and aides must be able to quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist. In addition, aides must pay attention to detail when performing clerical tasks, such as helping a patient fill out an insurance form.  

Flexibility. Assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best type of therapy to use for achieving a patient’s goals.

Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapy assistants and aides spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should be able to communicate clearly with patients and with patients’ families to the extent of their training.

Physical strength. Assistants and aides need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nearly all states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed or registered. Licensure typically requires the completion of an accredited occupational therapy assistant education program, completion of all fieldwork requirements, and passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Some states have additional requirements.

Occupational therapy assistants must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant” (COTA). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain their certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specialty certifications for occupational therapy assistants who want to demonstrate their specialized level of knowledge, skills, and abilities in specialized areas of practice such as low vision or feeding, eating and swallowing.

Occupational therapy aides are not regulated.

Advancement

Some occupational therapy assistants and aides advance by gaining additional education and becoming occupational therapists. A small number of occupational therapist “bridge” education programs are designed to qualify occupational therapy assistants to advance and become therapists.

Pay About this section

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Median annual wages, May 2015

Occupational therapy assistants

$57,870

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

$54,520

Total, all occupations

$36,200

Occupational therapy aides

$27,800

Healthcare support occupations

$27,040

 

The median annual wage for occupational therapy assistants was $57,870 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,440, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,080.

The median annual wage for occupational therapy aides was $27,800 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,950.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for occupational therapy assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows: 

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $63,500
Home health care services 63,260
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 58,840
Hospitals; state, local, and private 51,950
Educational services; state, local, and private 46,790

In May 2015, the median annual wages for occupational therapy aides in the top industries in which they worked were as follows: 

Educational services; state, local, and private $30,580
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 30,400
Hospitals; state, local, and private 28,840
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 24,900
Social assistance 24,530

Most occupational therapy assistants and aides work full time. Occupational therapy assistants and aides may work during evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients’ schedules.

Job Outlook About this section

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Occupational therapy assistants

43%

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

40%

Occupational therapy aides

31%

Healthcare support occupations

23%

Total, all occupations

7%

 

Employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 43 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to grow 31 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 2,700 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Demand for occupational therapy is likely to grow over the coming decade in response to the health needs of the aging baby-boom generation and a growing elderly population. Older adults are more prone than younger people to conditions and ailments such as arthritis and stroke. These conditions can affect one’s ability to perform a variety of everyday activities. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help occupational therapists in caring for these patients. Occupational therapy will also continue to be used to treat children and young adults with developmental disabilities, such as autism.

In addition, demand for occupational therapy assistants is likely to stem from healthcare providers (especially long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes) employing more assistants to reduce the cost of occupational therapy services. After the therapist has evaluated a patient and designed a treatment plan, the occupational therapy assistant can provide many aspects of the treatment that the therapist prescribed.

Demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. Both rehabilitation and habilitation services are included among essential health benefits to be covered by insurers; however, coverage may vary by state. Occupational therapy assistants and aides will be needed to help therapists treat additional patients and to ensure that treatment facility operations run smoothly.

Job Prospects

Occupational therapy assistants and aides with experience working in an occupational therapy office or other healthcare setting should have the best job opportunities. However, occupational therapy aides may face strong competition from the large pool of qualified people, because requirements for entry are low.

Employment projections data for occupational therapy assistants and aides, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Occupational therapy assistants and aides

31-2010 41,900 58,700 40 16,800 [XLSX]

Occupational therapy assistants

31-2011 33,000 47,100 43 14,100 [XLSX]

Occupational therapy aides

31-2012 8,800 11,600 31 2,700 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of occupational therapy assistants and aides.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2015 MEDIAN PAY Help
Dental assistants

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Postsecondary nondegree award $35,980
Medical assistants

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Their duties vary with the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

Postsecondary nondegree award $30,590
Occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Master's degree $80,150
Pharmacy technicians

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians help pharmacists dispense prescription medication to customers or health professionals.

High school diploma or equivalent $30,410
Physical therapist assistants and aides

Physical Therapist Assistants and Aides

Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.

See How to Become One $42,980
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm (visited September 30, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

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2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2015 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2015, the median annual wage for all workers was $36,200.