Becoming a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)

by Howard Gerber on November 12, 2015

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occupational therapy assistant job requirementsYou have a lot of options if you are considering a career in the medical field. If you are looking for a job in healthcare where you can improve a person’s quality of life, working as an occupational therapy assistant may be a career to consider.

Job Duties

Occupation therapy assistants help occupational therapists carry out treatment plans. OT assistants help patients improve the skills needed to perform daily living tasks. They may work with people who have had brain injuries, strokes, and other illnesses and injuries that interfere with their level of functioning. Assistants often help patients perform activities and exercises that improve daily living skills. They also teach patients how to use adaptive equipment and find alternative ways to perform everyday tasks.


Occupational therapy assistants must obtain an associate degree from an accredited OT assisting program. Classes include biology, anatomy, and psychology. Students also get hands-on experience completing clinical internships at hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Most OT assisting programs take about two years of full-time study to complete.


Most states require OT assistants to become licensed. Although it may vary, state licensing requirements usually include passing the national licensing exam for OT assistants. A criminal background check is also often required. After an initial state OT assistant license has been obtained, continuing education is required to renew the license.

Job Opportunities

Occupational therapy assistants work in the same settings as occupational therapists. They may find employment in hospitals, nursing homes, and residential facilities. OT assistants also work in schools and home health agencies. Opportunities to work as a travel OT assistant are also available.

Most occupational therapy assistants work during the daytime, but some healthcare facilities may also require OT assistants to work early evening hours. Weekend work may also be required in some instances.


Salaries for occupational therapy assistants vary depending on the setting, part of the country where they work, and years of experience. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the average annual salary for OT assistants as about $53,000.

Traits Needed

Occupational therapy assistants need to have good interpersonal skills since they work with all types of people in a variety of settings. In addition, there are a few other traits that will increase your chances of success in the field.

  • Creativity: OT assistants sometimes have to think outside the box. OT therapy is not a one size fits all type of treatment. Being able to come up with creative solutions to obstacles can be very beneficial for OT assistants.
  • Patience: Treatment plans are often carried out over several months or years. OT assistants need to be patient and continue to motivate and encourage patients in order to see improvements.
  • Good Communication Skills: Similar to other careers in healthcare, good communication skills are essential for OT assistants. In addition to patients, OT assistants also need to communicate well with other members of the medical team.
  • Physical Stamina and Strength: OT assistants often need to assist patients in standing and repositioning. They also are often kneeling or standing for long periods of time.

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