Meet four OTAs who have taken their love of occupational therapy to the next level by capitalizing on their clinical expertise.
Author: Renee Leuschke, MS OTR/L
When making the decision of whether to pursue an Occupational Therapy (OT/OTR) degree or an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) degree, you may find yourself asking the following questions: Will I have ample job opportunities? And will those jobs be challenging, intriguing, and provide the potential for growth?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow by 31% through 2028. Those with an OTA certification focus on treating clients in a variety of settings, following goals and a treatment plan outlined by an OT during an evaluation. They possess the skills to work with pediatrics to geriatrics and a wide variety of diagnoses.
The Day-to-Day Duties of Occupational Therapy Assistants
Traditionally, OTAs will join occupational therapists in working primarily at facilities such as hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, post-acute rehabilitation facilities, outpatient clinics, and home health therapy agencies.
Daily job tasks in these areas generally focus on working with patients on improving self-care skills, conducting transfers between two seats such as a wheelchair and toilet, working towards improving the ability to complete necessary home-related tasks, and basic skills that improve functional ability levels such as balance, strength, range of motion, and coordination.
Due to the ongoing nature of the job, therapists working in these healthcare environments should be prepared to work weekends and as well as holidays as needed. It’s typical for these types of positions to take place during a regular day shift schedule, for instance, 7:00 am to 3:30 pm or 8:00 am to 4:30 pm. In comparison, home health care can differ slightly in that therapists may schedule evening appointments with their patients instead.
Healthcare facilities involving occupational therapy with adults are not the only job opportunities for COTAs, and they can also serve as a stepping stone for career advancement into further areas of specialization.
Interested in Becoming The Boss?
Highly experienced OTAs are often desirable candidates to become the Director of Rehab (DOR) for a facility. In this position, you can put your excellent customer service skills to use, managing and coordinating care between occupational and physical therapists (PTs) and assistants as well as speech and language pathologists (SLPs).
While maintaining positive relationships with both staff and patients is critical, as a DOR you must also maintain your clinical knowledge and skills as you may be involved with quality assurance and compliance to maintain the facility’s professionalism, level of expertise, adherence to state and federal standards, and good standing with the public as a place to receive quality therapy services.
Julie Thomas, an OTA and DOR at a skilled nursing facility, truly embraces her relational skills and maintains an active presence with the facility’s residents, remarking how much she enjoys learning about the lives and adventures of her patients.
Practicing in Specialized Fields
What often makes healthcare such an interesting profession is that no day is ever the same. This is especially true when working at a specialized brain injury rehabilitation and community re-entry facility. This subset of generalized post-acute rehabilitation facilities truly provides an opportunity to be creative in designing treatment sessions to improve an individual’s ability to live more independently.
Meagan Minefee, an OTA fortunate to have landed a position at this type of facility, says she definitely feels like she is making a huge impact in her patient’s lives. She feels that she plays “a vital role in their success stories.”
Minefee, who is also planning to become a certified brain injury specialist, works on the typical activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADL) that OTs and OTAs primarily address. However, she takes this one step further and works with her patients to begin volunteering in the community following their new diagnosis. Individuals at her facility typically reside there for approximately one to three months.
Pursuing A Niche Industry Demand: Home Modifications
Following the transition to home from rehabilitation facilities, home modifications are often necessary to maintain safety and improve an individual’s ability to be as independent as possible. OTAs have the opportunity to take a primary role in transforming a person’s home into a more accessible environment.
Amanda Heriford is an OTA who began her career working for a rehabilitation hospital. In the last three years, she has worked for a company providing home modifications. She says, “It’s still so wonderful to have a hand in making [my clients’] homes accessible to their individual needs.”
She has supplemented her clinical knowledge by completing home modification courses, making her an expert in this niche area. She primarily works with individuals injured on the job and makes sure to supply recommendations that are specific to each client’s functional independence level, ability to maintain high safety with task completion, home environment, and medical necessity.
Working With Children
Working with pediatrics is often a highly desired and competitive clinical area. OTAs can find opportunities to work with children in schools as well as outpatient therapy clinics.
Therapists in this field tend to address pediatric difficulties relating to sensory integration, handwriting, attention and emotional regulation, gross and fine motor skills, and daily living skills. Per Devon Breithart, of My OT Spot, “Pediatric OTs [and COTAs] work on any skill that is a barrier to participating in…age-appropriate occupations, like play or learning.”
Davis, a contract OTA working in a school, feels fortunate she landed a position in this area and loves her job. Incredibly tenacity is required to obtain a position in this industry, and Davis comments that “students need to be self-motivated to push forward” and continue networking, seeking out job opportunities, and applying for pediatric positions to obtain a job in this field.
Long Term Career Opportunities for OTAs
With a strong desire to succeed and develop your skills, working as an OTA can provide opportunities for lifelong learning, career development, and advancement while being a part of a giving profession you can be proud to call your own.
Competition for desirable positions corresponds to the rise in popularity of students pursuing occupational therapy-related careers, and landing an awesome position will require you to work hard to set yourself apart from other candidates. But, with the willpower to focus on your goals, you can find the OTA job of your dreams and bring your career to the level next.
Renee Leuschke graduated from the University of Illinois-Chicago in 2008 with a Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy. She currently treats clients at an outpatient clinic focusing on neurological conditions. Her clinical passions include addressing visual information processing and functional cognition impairments, researching the latest and greatest treatments within the OT scope of practice, and helping to educate others and advance the OT profession.