Career AdviceOccupational TherapyOTA Program

The Pros and Cons of Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant

OTA and child patient working on therapeutic exercise with text "is an OTA Degree right for you?"

Are you considering becoming an occupational therapy assistant (OTA)? The Harcum College online-based Occupational Therapy Assistant program near Phoenix, Arizona, allows you to earn your degree in as few as 16 months.

You need only a high school diploma with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, or the GED equivalent, to start the application process. We offer three start dates per year — in January, May, and August — so you need not wait to apply.

As with any profession, there are pros and cons associated with being a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA). Read on to learn more.

The Pros of Becoming a COTA

  • COTA is one of the most lucrative professions in the U.S. requiring only an associate’s degree. This not only means cutting down on time invested in college, it means cutting down on the price of attending college.
  • OTAs can truly help people. Whether someone needs assistance performing daily activities due to an illness, injury, or disability, occupational therapist assistants help people work within their limitations to live as independently as possible.
  • OTAs have more patient interaction. While the OT evaluates and develops treatment plans for clients/patients, the OTA puts those plans into action directly with the patient. The OTA can go home at night knowing that they made a real difference.

OTAs work under the direction of an occupational therapist (OT), helping individuals of all ages and abilities develop, recover, or improve the skills they need for daily life and work. While the OT evaluates patients and develops their treatment plans, the OTA works directly with patients to put those plans into action.

The Cons of Becoming a COTA

  • OTAs earn less than OTs. The median pay for an OTA in 2019 was $59,200/year. The median pay for an OT in 2019 was $84,950/year.
  • OTAs earn less than OTs. The median pay for an OTA in 2019 was $59,200/year. The median pay for an OT in 2019 was $84,950/year.
  • OTAs earn less than OTs. The median pay for an OTA in 2019 was $59,200/year. The median pay for an OT in 2019 was $84,950/year.

Is Becoming an OTA Right for You?                                           

Occupational therapy assistants help take clients from the challenges they face to the goals they want to achieve. Those challenges can be developmental, caused by an injury, or part of a disorder/condition.

For example, an OTA can:

  • Recommend adaptive equipment to promote independent living.
  • Show a client how to perform activities safely.
  • Demonstrate a therapeutic play activity for a child with a developmental disability.
  • Recommend environmental changes that would allow a return to the workplace.
Child working on motor functions in an occupational therapy exercise with an OTA

Personal characteristics of a successful OTA:

An occupational therapy assistant should be friendly, compassionate, and capable of building trusting relationships. Any good OTA should enjoy helping others. They must also be able to move patients into different positions. The best OTAs are those who can be creative in their approach to therapy.

How OTAs Help Patients with Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease: A Closer Look

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease, and the most common form of dementia. Dementia is a disorder of mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and characterized by memory disorders, personality changes, and impaired reasoning.

OTAs help clients with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia to retain their abilities for as long as possible. Often, OTAs assist patients who have nowhere else to turn. They also help the families of clients dealing with these diagnoses.

OTAs assist these patients by:

Helping them live more independently.

An example would be writing easy-to-read instructions for clients to help them prepare a meal or get dressed.

Making sure their home is safe.

OTAs can evaluate home conditions, ensuring there are no harmful materials present, for example.

Helping to control wandering.

For patients with dementia who can obey direct instructions, posting a “stop” sign on an outside door can prevent them from wandering away from their homes. OTAs can also evaluate the need for locks on doors and windows.

Maintaining emotional connections.

OTAs can encourage a client to share stories from his/her life, since dementia patients’ long-term memory is typically better than their short-term memory. Using a photo album to elicit happy memories can provide the patient with a sense of peace. 

Preventing falls and injuries.

An OTA might do a home inspection, helping identify the need to remove loose rugs or draw attention to a series of stairs, for example. An inspection may bring to light the need to remove clutter or to ensure there is proper lighting in the home.

woman standing in doorway as man greets her

More About the Harcum OTA Program

Harcum’s 16-month OTA program, taken over four full-time semesters, comprises online learning and practical experience.

  • Our online coursework provides the foundational knowledge you’ll need — wherever and whenever it is convenient for you. Of course, deadlines still apply, but you have the flexibility to study in a way that suits your schedule.
  • We have a dedicated OTA learning site, where you will complete skills labs — practicing various interventions on mock patients.
  • Our program’s fieldwork portion allows you to earn hands-on experience, caring for real patients in a variety of settings.

Upon graduation from our OTA program, you will earn an associate of science degree that will allow you to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®) exam.

Once you are licensed to practice, you can find employment in a wide variety of settings, working with patients from all walks of life.

Would You Like to Learn More?

If you are interested in becoming an occupational therapy assistant, do not wait. Apply to Harcum College today! Begin your journey toward becoming an OTA.

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