Occupational Therapy Assistant Skills You Need for Success
April 21, 2014
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As an occupational therapy assistant (OTA), you will be working in one of the United States' fastest-growing professions that require an associate's degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), between 2012 and 2022, the number of OTA jobs is projected to increase by 41 percent, nearly three times the average for all jobs combined. Though OTAs earn a national median salary of $48,940, the occupational therapy assistant skills you will rely on most will depend on your work setting and the population you serve.
OT Aides and OT Assistants
Although both OT assistants and OT aides report to occupational therapists, it is important to distinguish the difference between the two. You only need a high school diploma to become an OT aide, and most of the training is done on the job. Although you might help patients move about, your primary tasks are related to support and include clerical duties, preparing therapy areas and cleaning up.
OTAs, on the other hand, have an associate's degree and are licensed in the states in which they practice. As an OTA, you have much more direct, clinical interaction with patients.
Occupational Therapy Skills in an Outpatient Versus Hospital Setting
According to the BLS, most OTAs work in outpatient therapy settings, in nursing and special care facilities or with hospital patients. OTAs work with a variety of patients, including bedbound trauma victims, elderly patients having hips replaced, and young children learning a new way to tie shoes. Occupational therapy assistant skills must be versatile enough to work with patients of all ages and needs.
With high populations of geriatric patients, skilled nursing facilities employ a significant number of OTAs. Other OTAs work in outpatient therapy settings that are specialized by the type of services rendered. For example, an OTA working in a spine center is trained to work with the particular needs of spinal cord injury victims. Another OTA may work at a facility that helps the blind live more active lives. Yet another might work with a home health agency that supports adults with learning difficulties live more independently.
Regardless of what kind of setting an OTA works in, or the type of patient in their care, the following skills are needed:
- The ability to teach patients ways to overcome barriers to self-care. Creativity and independent judgment is essential.
- The ability to use a computer and prepare proper documentation.
- An excellent understanding of human anatomy and how it plays a role in a patient's ability to overcome rehabilitation problems.
- The ability to teach patients to use a wide array of equipment.
- Thorough medical and pharmacological training to know when and where to direct a patient for further help.
- Basic assessment skills in order to work with occupational and physical therapists to develop and implement treatment plans.
The foundational skills you need to become an effective OTA will be learned through pursuing an associate's degree. Only after you've identified where you would like to work and with what kinds of patients can you fine-tune those skills through work in the field.
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