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13 Pros and Cons of Being an Occupational Therapy Assistant


Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

If you are looking for a career that is both challenging and rewarding, an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) may be the perfect choice for you. As an occupational therapy assistant, you will help people of all ages who are struggling with physical or mental health conditions regain their independence and participate in everyday activities. But before making any decisions, it is essential to weigh the pros and cons of this career path. Do you know what are the pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant? If you do not, do not worry. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant. These top pros and cons will surely help you decide if this is the right career for you.


What Does An Occupational Therapy Assistant Do?


Occupational therapy assistants play a crucial role in the field of occupational therapy. They are responsible for treating patients who have mental or physical disabilities, injuries, or illnesses that affect their daily activities. Some of the tasks that occupational therapy assistants perform are assisting patients with practical activities involved in everyday life through the use of therapeutic techniques and devices. They provide patients with the necessary training to properly use therapeutic equipment, including household items.

An occupational therapy assistant will also assist occupational therapists in developing treatment plans tailored to individual patient needs, evaluating and recording a patient's progress, and reporting it to their supervising occupational therapist and other members of the patient's healthcare team.

An occupational therapy assistant will also assist occupational therapists in providing instructions to patients or their family members for home exercise programs, self-help management strategies, and safety measures to promote healing and enhance daily functioning.

As an occupational therapy assistant you will help patients in using assistive technology, such as hand splints, prosthetics devices, wheelchairs, crutches, and adaptive switches.


Where Does An Occupational Therapy Assistant Work?


You will find occupational therapy assistants working in numerous settings. Some of these settings where you can find an occupational therapy assistant working include rehabilitation facilities (where people go to recover from injury, illness, or disability). They are part of interdisciplinary teams with rehab therapists, physicians, and nurses.

Occupational therapy assistants also work in skilled nursing facilities, psychiatric hospitals, and home healthcare, focusing more on long-term care than acute care. Another area you can find them working in is the in-patient hospital setting. You will find them working with patients across the lifespan and with different medical diagnoses. You can also find occupational therapy assistants working in the special education department with children who have disabilities.

Finally, they also work in occupational health and wellness programs in the corporate sector.


What Is A Typical Occupational Therapy Assistant Work Schedule Like?


As an occupational therapy assistant, your schedule will vary depending on where you work and what hours the facility is open. Let's look at an average occupational therapy assistant work schedule.

Half of occupational therapy assistant working in medical facilities work full-time schedules (more than 40 hours a week), and 30 percent worked part-time schedules (less than 40 hours a week). The other 20 percent worked split shifts. The first shift is 7 am to 3 pm, the second shift is 1 pm to 9 pm, and the third shift is 11 pm to 7 am.

If you work in the in-patient hospital setting, you could work a typical 9-5 shift, or you could find yourself working a 12-hour day. Working as an occupational therapy assistant in the outpatient setting means you could work as early as 7:30 am and as late as 8 pm.


How Much Does An Occupational Therapy Assistant Make?


The average annual salary for working as an occupational therapy assistant is $63,420 a year or $30.49 an hour. That is a pretty lovely chunk of change, but let's take a closer look at your salary by your experience level.

Occupational therapy assistants who are just starting out in the field can expect to earn an hourly wage of around $20.76 a year or roughly $43,180. Once you have gained some experience under your belt, your salary will increase by about $10.00 an hour to $30.26. This figure will translate to $62,940. Now, if you have been practicing for a reasonable amount of time, your salary will steadily increase to around $84,090 a year or $40.43 an hour.

Level of ExperienceHourlyAnnual
Entry-Level$20.76$43,180
Mid-Level$30.26$62,940
Top-Level$40.43$84,090
Average Salary$30.49$63,420
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Job Outlook For An Occupational Therapy Assistant


Now, let's take a look at the job outlook for the career of an occupational therapy assistant. In 2020 there were roughly 43,300 occupational therapy assistants. This figure is projected to increase by 36.03% or 15,600 occupational therapy assistants in 2030 to 58,900. This huge jump in employment accounts for the annual job openings, including new and replacement jobs.

Employment
in 2020
Projected
Employment
in 2030
New Employment
Growth (2020-2030)
Annual Job Openings
(New + Replacement)
Number %
43,30058,90015,60036.03%7,800
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


TOP CONS OF BEING AN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being an Occupational Therapy Assistant.)

1. You will need to earn an associate’s degree.

In order to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant, you will first need to earn an associate’s degree. This degree program will take two years to complete and will prepare you for entry-level job opportunities. The unfortunate part of this is that you will end up spending two years of your life and a great deal of money on tuition to land a job that offers a very average starting salary.

2. You will need to complete a clinical experience.

In order to become an occupational therapy assistant, you will need to complete a clinical experience with an established registered occupational therapy assistant. The length of your clinical experience will vary from state to state. The typical amount of time is usually around 2 months. However, some people have spent up to 6 months in the clinical experience with an occupational therapy assistant.

3. How do you plan on paying for your education?

There are a couple of factors that will impact the cost of occupational therapy school. Some of these factors include the size of the school, where the school is located, and whether the school is private or public.

Typically, you can expect to pay around $7,000 for tuition and fees for a public institution. For tuition and fees at a private institution, you will be spending around $15,000. So, how do you plan on paying for this? If you do not have expendable cash lying around, you will need to take out loans. Taking out loans can land you in a reasonable amount of debt.

4. You will need to pass your licensing exam.

One of the cons of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you will be required to pass a licensing exam to be practicing. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) will provide this licensing exam. You will need to pass the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam. There is no limit to how many times you can take the exam if you do not pass, but you will have to wait 45 days between taking the exam. The cost to take the exam is rather expensive. It can range anywhere from $500-$540, depending on which format you choose to take. So, if you have to retake this exam, the cost can really add up.

5. You need to obtain a license.

So, if you have passed your licensing exam, you will now need to take on the task of applying to your state for a license. Each state has its own application process with its own requirements, most times including specific fees and payments. It is essential to find out the specifics of your particular state's licensing board before applying to ensure you have all paperwork completed correctly. You will need to apply for your license as soon as possible because many states have specific deadlines that must be met.

6. You will need to maintain your license.

One of the disadvantages of being an occupational therapy assistant is that once you obtain your license, you will have to maintain it. It is not a one-and-done type of deal. Continuing education is required in most states for all healthcare professionals. In the career of an occupational therapy assistant, each state will differ regarding how many hours of continuing education are needed for each license period. Keep in mind that you may also have to pay a renewal fee in order to maintain your license.

7. Your job can be physically demanding.

Frequently, occupational therapy assistants will help clients who have issues walking or many other health problems that make everyday life difficult. Working as an occupational therapy assistant is physically demanding. Occupational therapy assistants spend most of their day on their feet and moving around. This is not only hard on your body, but you must be healthy enough to stand and assist clients who may need assistance.

A career as an occupational therapy assistant will require you are to perform lifting, reaching, and transferring. If you are not careful with how much weight you lift, your body can become injured. The same is true if you do not use proper form when performing tasks. This injury could prevent you from working for an extended period of time or maybe even permanently.

8. Your job can be emotionally demanding.

One of the top disadvantages of being an occupational therapy assistant is that your job will drain you emotionally. Dealing with other people's personal problems can be challenging even at the best of times, and it is likely to take its toll on you after a while. You may face difficult situations such as denying treatment for someone who cannot afford it or dealing with negative attitudes from other staff members. You may also at times work with clients who are terminally ill or have an incurable disease, which can be even more emotionally challenging.

9. You will have an increased infection risk

One of the biggest disadvantages of being an occupational therapy assistant is that your job alone will place you at an increased risk of infection. Clients with a contagious illness, such as the flu, coronavirus, or norovirus, are at an increased risk for passing their disease on to another person. While you are taking precautions to keep yourself safe, there is always a chance that you could still get sick. If you become ill, you will also run the risk that you will pass on one or more of these infections to your loved ones.

10. You may have to work weekends.

As an occupational therapy assistant, you may find that you will have to work weekends. Working weekends can really negatively impact your work-life balance. It is easy to let your personal life suffer when working weekends. You will miss many memory-making opportunities with your family and friends.

11. You may have to accommodate your patients in the evenings

When you are weighing the pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant, you must think that you may find yourself working evenings to accommodate your patient's schedules. This is because some of your patients may have their own jobs during the day. If you have children, this might be difficult because you will miss dinner. You may miss your children's games or events after school that is scheduled during your working hours.

12. You must have a good amount of patience.

As an occupational therapy assistant, you must have a great deal of patience. At times you may feel as though you are not treated very well. Your clients may be hostile and rude to you at times. It will take a thick skin to continue in the field at times. If you do not have thick skin or cannot grin and bear it, well, this is not the right career for you.

13. You may work on challenging cases

When examining the pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant, you need to keep in mind that you may have to work with some pretty tough cases. Not everyone will get better. Not every person will be grateful for what you do.

There will be smooth sailing for some of your clients, where others seem to hit every bump in the road. Some may have been injured so long ago they simply cannot remember a time before their injury. And these are just a few of the many things that you'll come across during your career as an occupational therapy assistant.


TOP PROS OF BEING AN OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 advantages of being an Occupational Therapy Assistant.)

1. Your education path is not that long.

One of the top pros of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you do not need to sit in school for years before starting your career. Often, college students are relieved when they realize how short the occupational therapy assistant program is. The typical occupational therapy assistant program will take eighteen months to two years to complete, depending on your learning style, pace, and program requirements. After the program is completed, students are prepared to sit for their licensing exam and to walk into their first job.

2. You can complete some of your coursework online.

Another one of the pros of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you can complete most of your coursework online. This means that you are not required to spend time in a classroom setting, which is excellent for someone who works full-time or lives too far away from an accredited school offering this program. You will also be able to juggle your family and any other obligations that you have going on around earning your degree.

Another benefit of taking your coursework online is completing it at your own pace. Depending on how busy your schedule is for that day, you will be able to log in and out of the website as much as needed.

3. You can become certified.

Certification as an occupational therapy assistant will show your colleagues and patients that you have a solid base of information and maintain high standards. You can choose from numerous certifications; however, some require additional training, and others do not. Often, the type of facility you work at dictates what kind of certification is necessary. Obtaining certification may also increase your salary.

4. You can earn a respectable living.

One of the biggest advantages of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you can earn competitive salaries. The average annual salary is $63,420, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Think about all the luxuries that earning a good salary will afford you.

You can save money, build your nest egg at a quicker rate, and have the financial security to afford luxuries. You have more discretionary income that you can spend on anything that you desire. Start planning for your retirement now by saving as much money as possible during your high-income years.

5. You will have an In-demand career.

As an occupational therapy assistant, you will have an in-demand career. The career of an occupational therapy assistant is expected to grow by 30.03% by the year 2030. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities for occupational therapy assistants are expected to grow much faster than average. Having such growth in the field means that you will have a high chance of getting a job.

One explanation for this significant increase in opportunity is that occupational therapy assistants are needed everywhere, as they can perform their tasks almost anywhere. From the private practice setting to skilled nursing facilities and hospitals, occupational therapy assistants have been providing treatment services to those with disabilities or other health problems for years.

6. You will not have any issues finding a job.

One of the advantages of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you will always be able to find a job. This is excellent news because it means that you will not have to compromise on certain aspects of your life, such as where you live to find a job. This makes it easier for occupational therapy assistants to enjoy their lives more.

7. This can be a stepping-stone to becoming an occupational therapist.

Being an occupational therapy assistant can be a stepping-stone to becoming an occupational therapist. Working as an occupational therapy assistant would be a convenient career move for you if you are looking to advance your career. This is because you are already familiar with many aspects of being an occupational therapist. Also, the educational requirements for occupational therapy assistants are similar to those of becoming an occupational therapist.

8. You may have a flexible work schedule.

As an occupational therapy assistant, you can have a flexible schedule. Having a flexible schedule will allow you to be able to try to schedule the days that you work around whatever you have going on in your life. You can schedule your day around whatever you have going on. This can allow you to go to school, work out or spend time with family and friends. When working a flexible schedule, you are able to have more free time in your life. You will have a tremendous amount of flexibility in your schedule if you work a 10 to 12-hour schedule. Having a flexible schedule can lead to an excellent quality of life.

9. You can choose the setting you want to work in

One of the top pros of being an occupational therapy assistant is, probably unsurprisingly, the wide variety of settings in which you can work. In fact, there are almost limitless possibilities of locations you can get hired. Some places that hire occupational therapy assistants include schools, nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and private practice offices. However, that does not mean that you can only work in those places. With the proper education and experience, you can work almost anywhere!

10. You can travel the country with your job

One of the pros of being an occupational therapy assistant is becoming a travel occupational therapy assistant. There is an excellent need for occupational therapy assistants in most parts of the United States. Still, there is so much opportunity in some locations that it would be silly not to take advantage of the high demand. So, if you have been bitten by the travel bug but still need to work, well, then being a traveling occupational therapy assistant may be right for you.

11. You can feel great about the work you do

A career as an occupational therapy assistant is a career that you should be proud of and feel good about. As an occupational therapy assistant, you are helping people every day gain the tools they need to lead a successful life. You can do this by working one-on-one with patients or as a support team member at a school, clinic, workplace, or other facilities. As an occupational therapy assistant, you will help your patients regain skills and abilities for daily living and learn new ones.

You will play a key role in helping them take on projects, develop hobbies and even find success in their careers. Collaborating with patients is an essential part of the job, as is sharing your knowledge with other members of the team.

12. You will receive benefits

As an occupational therapy assistant, you will be entitled to your employer's medical, dental, and possibly vision benefits. You may also have several job benefits, including a pension, life insurance, and access to legal advice. Having these great benefits can provide you with the security in a job that so many people search for.

13. You will get paid time off.

When you are assessing the pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant, you should take into consideration what kind of paid time off you will have. Most employers will give you paid time off in the form of vacation and sick days. Some employers will also give you a set number of personal days. Having paid time off is a privilege to have as an occupational therapy assistant.


My Final Thoughts


The occupational therapy assistant profession is rewarding, but it also has its downsides. Whether you are just starting your career or considering making a switch to a career as an occupational therapy assistant, the pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant are something that you should consider before taking that leap!

The pros of this profession are plenty, but so are the cons, which is why it is important to weigh them both when deciding if you want to pursue a career as an occupational therapy assistant. It is not all rainbows and butterflies as an occupational therapy assistant. There are pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant, just like any other career choice you make in life. I hope that the top 13 pros and cons of being an occupational therapy assistant have helped you decide whether this is the right career for you.


Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.