Career AdviceOccupational Therapy

Health Care Careers: Nursing vs. Occupational Therapy Assistant

Which is right for you? Nursing vs. Occupational Therapy

Are you interested in working in health care? If so, there are easily more than 50 careers for you to choose from. In this post, we’re going to compare two of them: nursing vs. occupational therapy assistant. Both roles involve direct patient care, but each contributes differently.

For starters, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what each professional role entails, as well as to determine which best aligns with your personality and career goals. So let’s begin.

What Does a Registered Nurse Do?

Registered nurses (RNs) are part of a highly diverse profession that applies competence and compassion when caring for patients across the health care continuum.

Nurses work with doctors and other health care providers to plan, coordinate, and deliver treatment to patients experiencing varying medical conditions. Also, given that nurses work the closest with patients, it’s up to them to advocate for what’s best for those in their care.

As a registered nurse, you can work in a wide variety of health care settings as well as choose from any number of specialty areas of practice.

What Does an Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?

Under the direction of an occupational therapist (OT), an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) helps individuals of all ages develop, recover, or improve the skills they need for daily living and working.

While OTs develop the patient treatment plans, OTAs work directly with patients to put these plans into action. Treatment often relies on adaptive tools and/or environmental modifications to fit the unique needs of the individual.

OTAs can practice the profession in a wide variety of work settings, including clinics, community care centers, hospitals, nursing care facilities, private practices, and school systems.

woman with child playing with toys

OTAs work with children to help develop their fine motor skills.

Quick Career Comparison Guide

While registered nurses and occupational therapy assistants serve patients differently, there are still some parallels between these two professions.

NURSE

OVERVIEW
Nurses balance knowledge and expertise with care and compassion when treating patients with various medical conditions.

PATIENT TYPES
An individual recovering from surgery.
An accident victim with severe wounds.
A child or adult with broken bones.
A soon-to-be mom during childbirth.

FUNCTION
Nurses work as part of an interprofessional health care team, monitoring patient conditions, performing clinical tasks, and dispensing medication.

WAGES*
Nurses in the United States have a median annual salary of $73,300.

GROWTH*
Between 2018 and 2028, nursing jobs in the United States are expected to grow by 12%.

EMPLOYERS
• Hospitals
• Nursing homes
• Outpatient clinics
• Private practices
• Military bases
• Schools

OTA

OVERVIEW
Occupational therapy assistants work with patients of all ages who have physical and/or cognitive impairments.

PATIENT TYPES
An autistic teen with poor social skills.
An elderly adult adapting to memory loss.
A child dealing with sensory overload.
An office worker with a back injury.

FUNCTION
OTAs work under the supervision of an OT, monitoring patient activities, documenting patient progress, and guiding patients in the use of special equipment.

WAGES*
OTAs in the United States have a median annual salary of $61,510.

GROWTH*
Between 2018 and 2028, OTA jobs in the United States are expected to grow by 33%.

EMPLOYERS
• Hospitals
• Nursing homes
• Community care centers
• Private practices
• Outpatient clinics
• Schools

*Source: CareerOneStop.org, 2019

nurse with child patient

Nurses can specialize in pediatric care, working with children in hospitals or private practices.

Nurse Education and Licensure

You can enter the nursing profession with an Associate Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited higher learning institution. Also, you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN®) to be able to practice as a registered nurse.

OTA Education and Licensure

To become an OTA, you need an Associate of Science degree from an accredited college or university. Also, you need to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®) examination to be able to practice as a certified OTA.

Pros and Cons of Each Profession

Just like any career, there are pros and cons of working in the nursing and occupational therapy professions. This chart highlights some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

NURSE

PROS
• Helps patients of all ages
• Good earning potential
• Advancement opportunities
• Diverse work settings

CONS
• Puts safety at risk
• Physically demanding
• Emotionally taxing
• Constant charting
• Works long shifts

OTA

PROS
• Helps patients of all ages
• Good earning potential
• Growing profession
• Diverse work settings

CONS
• Not a well-known career
• Physically demanding
• Emotionally taxing
• Considerable paperwork
• Limited career advancement

Bottom Line

When it comes to nursing vs. occupational therapy assistant, it’s obvious they are both rewarding career options within the health care space. While nurses may make higher salaries, they also spend more time in school than OTAs. Plus, nurses face more extreme cases of human suffering than OTAs. Quite frankly, there are more ‘yuck’ factors (blood, germs, viruses, needle sticks, etc.) that come with being a nurse.

If you decide to go the nursing route, there are several different ways to go about entering the profession. However, it can be extremely tough to get into nursing schools these days. And it’s because schools receive far more student applications than they have spots available.

If you’d rather work in the field of occupational therapy, our Online OTA program in Arizona makes it possible to become an occupational therapy assistant in as few as 16 months.

Harcum faculty with students in skills lab

How Our Online OTA Program Works

All you need to begin the admission process for our Online OTA program is a high school diploma with a 2.5 GPA or the GED equivalent. The program blends online learning with practical experience to provide you with a flexible, well-rounded education that can be completed in as few as 16 months.

  • Online courses allow you to study at your own pace and attend “class” whenever it best fits into your daily schedule. Instructor deadlines still apply, however.
  • Skills labs at our OTA learning site in Sun City, Arizona, provide a contextual environment for you to learn and practice various mental, cognitive, and physical health-based interventions.
  • Fieldwork in diverse practice settings provides job shadowing opportunities and real-world experience working directly with patients.

Essentially, you learn the fundamentals of the OTA profession online, convert that knowledge into psychomotor skills at our learning site, and then tie everything together within the scope of OTA practice through fieldwork.

Want to know more about our 16-month Online OTA program near Phoenix, Arizona? Contact our admission team today! Our program is now enrolling for start dates in January, May, and August.

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