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How to Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant

Occupational Therapy Assistants provide many of the hands on services necessary to help developmentally challenged children, recovering patients and seniors with physical impediments regain functionality and independence. This immensely satisfying occupation is rich with employment opportunities as well as enlarged salaries.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 36,000 Occupational Therapy Assistants working in the country in 2010, with this number expected to grow by 41 percent in 2020. Over the next few years almost 14,800 new Occupational Therapy Assistant jobs will be added in the U.S. The average salary for Occupational Therapy Assistants was $51,010 in 2010.

If you are seeking to become an Occupational Therapy Assistant, you should check with your state’s OT licensing board about the exact details. Most states, however, require similar qualifications to the following:

Step 1: Graduate from an Accredited Degree Program

In the United States, you must graduate from a degree program that has been certified by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). You must graduate from these two year programs with at least an Associate’s degree. The curricula for most of these programs include courses like:

  • Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • General Psychology
  • Oral Communication
  • Fundamentals of Treatment
  • Kinesiology
  • Pathophysiology for Rehabilitative Health Practitioners

Step 2: Complete an Internship

Most states require that Occupational Therapy Assistants complete a period of supervised clinical occupational therapy work under the tutelage of a Licensed Occupational Therapist. This period varies in length depending upon the state, but most states require about two months of such experience prior to OTA licensure. These clinical practicums are usually facilitated by the colleges where you receive your occupational therapy education.

Step 3: Pass the National Certification Exam

Before you can obtain state OTA licensure, you must first pass the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam to become nationally certified. This exam is offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. This exam is available online for $500 or in paper format for $540. Most states allow you to take this exam as many times as necessary to pass, but the NBCOT requires that you wait 45 days between sittings.

Step 4: Apply for State Licensure

In many states, all Occupational Therapy professionals including OTAs must take an examination evaluating applicants’ knowledge of laws and regulations pertinent to the OT profession in that state. This exam is usually open book in format, and most states permit applicants to take the exam as many times as necessary to pass.

The Occupational Therapy Assistant licensure application process may differ slightly from state to state, but it requires submission of a signed and completed application along with a payment for the licensing fee. Most states require you to provide identifying information so that they may conduct a criminal background investigation. You must provide official transcripts from schools where you received your occupational therapy education.

All states allow you to obtain licensure through national exam reporting. You will need to contact the NBCOT to send the licensing board a copy of your exam scores or a Verification of Certification. Some but not all states may also allow you apply for licensure through reciprocity. This procedure is for OTAs who are licensed in other states; if you have already practiced as an OTA in another state, you must request that the state licensing board send a Verification of Licensure to the state you are currently residing in. In many cases, it is less costly to apply to reciprocity than examination.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure

Almost all states will require that you maintain knowledgeable about the latest developments in the Occupational Therapy profession through continuing education. The exact amount of continuing education hours per licensure period you must complete is dependent upon the state. License renewal also usually requires payment of a renewal fee.

If you have further questions about the OTA profession, you may wish to contact one of the following groups: