How To Become an Occupational Therapy Assistant in 8 Steps

Updated July 31, 2023

The health care industry is a growing field that offers many opportunities. One of these is an occupational therapy assistant, and these professionals work with patients experiencing physical or mental conditions, providing care that can improve their health. If you have a passion for helping people and caring for their physical needs, a career as an occupational therapy assistant could appeal to you. 

In this article, we discuss the role of an occupational therapy assistant and explain how to pursue this career effectively.

What is an occupational therapy assistant? 

An occupational therapy assistant works with an occupational therapist, providing therapy to patients with a range of medical conditions. The patients they work with often are in the rehabilitation stage and need the assistance of occupational therapists to help them recover. Some of the primary duties of this role include:

  • Assisting patients in therapeutic activities

  • Creating and implementing treatment plans

  • Working with children to overcome developmental disabilities and challenges

  • Encouraging patients to complete physically and mentally challenging tasks

  • Maintaining detailed patient records

The national average salary for a certified occupational therapy assistant is $71,144 per year. Certified occupational therapy assistants undergo an exam to receive their certification and demonstrate their knowledge in the field, which can qualify them for a higher salary. Occupational therapy assistants can work in hospitals, assisting living facilities, nursing homes, schools and outpatient clinics. Some also provide in-home care to patients who can't leave their homes.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: Learn About Being an Occupational Therapy Assistant

How to become an occupational therapy assistant 

Follow these steps to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant: 

1. Understand the main responsibilities 

Before you study occupational therapy and pursue it as a career, it may help you to research the role and primary duties. By ensuring the position involves tasks you may enjoy, you can begin the educational requirements with confidence. You can review job postings to learn more about what a typical occupational therapy assistant job may include and the skills employers look for in candidates.

Consider the skills you currently possess and determine whether any of these align with the skills of an occupational therapy assistant. You can use this information to develop certain skills and become a more appealing candidate for a position.

Related: The Best Job Skills To Make Your Resume Stand Out

2. Enroll in an occupational therapy assistant program 

The next step is researching occupational therapy assistant programs, which community colleges or universities commonly offer. If you have a high school diploma or GED certificate, you can enroll in an accredited occupational therapy program. Most of these programs last about two years and cover the following subjects: 

  • Anatomy 

  • Psychology 

  • Physiology 

  • Medical terminology 

  • Physical and rehabilitation therapy 

Once you finish this program and complete the coursework, you can graduate with an associate degree in occupational therapy.

Related: How To Choose a College in 6 Steps

3. Obtain work experience

While completing the educational program, you often receive hands-on training and experience. During the first year, you start with Level 1 fieldwork, which often involves working alongside a professional occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant to experience their daily routine. The number of hours you dedicate to Level 1 fieldwork may vary on your program. It can range from a few months to a year. 

During the second year of your educational program, you complete more hands-on training and experience. This may include several months of supervised work in a hospital or health care facility. While completing the Level 2 fieldwork, you can perform the duties and tasks of the occupational therapy assistant role. After finishing this fieldwork, you receive a document from your supervisor stating you can work as an occupational therapy assistant.

Related: Work Experience and Your Career: Importance and Tips

4. Become certified

After you complete your occupational therapy assistant program, you can take the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy exam to become certified. The process to take the exam involves submitting your transcript and proof of graduation. You then can pay a fee and wait for the approval of your application. Once approved, you can schedule your exam at an approved testing center in your area. Exam scores range from 300 to 600, and a 450 or higher is a passing score. It takes about five hours to complete the exam, which includes questions on subjects like:

  • Developing a client-centered intervention plan 

  • Implementing evidence-based interventions

  • Maintaining high professional standards as an occupational therapy assistant

Related: What Are Certifications? Definition, Benefits, Types and Examples

5. Earn your license 

After passing the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy exam, you can apply for an occupational therapy assistant license in your state. Each state requires you to pass the national exam and meet other requirements. These requirements vary depending on the state in which you plan to practice. Contact the licensure board in your state to learn what else you can do to earn your license. 

Related: 20 Occupational Therapy Specialist Certifications

6. Create a resume

When you meet all the qualifications and requirements, you can start building your occupational therapy assistant resume. Your resume can feature your relevant work experience, education, certifications and skills. It's helpful to include details about your fieldwork and internships in your work experience section because these opportunities demonstrate hands-on experience within the field. Try to ensure your resume is well-structured with consistent formatting. Explain your work experience in brief bullet points with detailed explanations of each work experience, and use strong action verbs when describing your duties. 

Related: Occupational Therapy Assistant Resume Sample and Guide

7. Consider your preferred work environment 

Before you conduct a job search, it's helpful to consider the work environments in this role and which might appeal to you. Occupational therapy assistants can work in one location or consider opportunities that involve regular travel to different areas. You can consider all these options when searching for job opportunities. These professionals also can work in different environments. You can choose to work in a hospital, a nursing care facility or a physician's office, for example. The work you do may vary depending on the environment you choose. 

Related: OTA vs. PTA: Similarities and Differences

8. Apply to occupational therapy assistant jobs 

You can begin searching for a job using online listings and job boards. Carefully read through each job description to learn which jobs you qualify for and seem appealing to you. It may be worthwhile to contact your supervisors from your internship and fieldwork opportunities to find out whether they know of any available full-time jobs.

Once you gain experience as an occupational therapy assistant, you can consider going back to school to get additional education. Working as an occupational therapist involves obtaining a master's degree in a related field. This is a career opportunity that's worth considering if you enjoy the work you do but want to take on more responsibility.

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to become an occupational therapy assistant?

Typically, occupational therapy assistant programs last two years. The specific length of time required to complete a program can vary based on its cost, its location and your availability. The time it takes to to get a license in your state also lengthen the path to entry, but the total time usually isn't much longer than three years.

Is it difficult to become an occupational therapy assistant?

The courses you take may be difficult since they often cover complex scientific topics about psychology and the human body, but if you study regularly and apply yourself diligently, then you maximize your chances of passing. Other difficulties you may experience are funding your education and earning your license, both of which you can prepare for with planning.

Is being an occupational therapy assistant a good career?

If you enjoy learning about the human body and helping people overcome physical challenges, then being an occupational therapy assistant is an excellent career. You might also enjoy this career if you like working with others, especially since your clients are likely to have regular sessions.


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