Are you interested in a career in occupational therapy? If so, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between an occupational therapist (OT) and an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Both OTs and OTAs work with patients to help them regain independence and improve their quality of life. However, you should be aware of some critical differences between the two occupations before making your decision.
OT vs. OTA: Responsibilities
Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) work together to help patients improve their ability to perform activities of daily living. As stated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OTs are responsible for developing and implementing treatment plans.1 OTAs carry out treatment plan activities under the supervision of an OT.2
OTs may specialize in areas such as mental health, pediatrics, or geriatrics. OTAs typically provide general patient care, but are often directly involved in providing therapy to patients. The responsibilities of OTs and OTAs can vary depending on the state in which they practice.
OT vs. OTA: Scope of Practice
The scope of practice for OTs is much broader than that of OTAs. This is partly because OTs have more extensive training than OTAs. In general, OTs can perform all tasks that OTAs can perform. In addition, OTs can perform tasks that require a higher level of judgment, such as evaluating patients and modifying treatment plans as needed. Additionally, OTs can serve as consultants to other professionals regarding patients’ and community needs, such as working in educational settings or helping to create functional and accessible work environments.1
Once licensed or certified, OTAs can provide a wide range of services. They collaborate with the OT to carry out treatment plans, including assisting patients with activities of daily living, teaching patients how to use adaptive equipment, guiding ergonomic principles, and providing support to families and caregivers.2
Becoming an Occupational Therapist: Training and Requirements
Occupational therapists must earn a master’s degree or higher from an accredited occupational therapy program, which typically takes two to three years.1 They must also pass a national certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Once they have completed these steps, they are licensed by the state where they wish to practice. To maintain their license, OTs must complete continuing education courses regularly.
Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant: Training and Requirements
The educational requirements for becoming an OTA are less rigorous than those for becoming an OT. OTAs must complete an accredited occupational therapy assistant program, which typically takes about two years.2 Upon completing their program, they must pass a national certification exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Once they have completed these steps, they are licensed by the state where they wish to practice. Just like OTs, in order to continue practicing, OTAs must complete continuing education courses on a regular basis.
OT vs. OTA: Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 14% from 2021 to 2031.1 National employment of occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 25% in the same time frame, with both occupations expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations.2
According to the Employment Development Department of California, employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 18.9% from 2018-2028 statewide.3 Employment of occupational therapy assistants is expected to grow 42.3%.4
The need for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants is expected to grow due to the large number of aging baby boomers, the increasing number of people remaining active later in life, and increasing diagnoses of various illnesses and conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, and autism.¹
OT vs. OTA: Which Career Path Is Right For You?
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants play vital roles in helping people overcome physical or mental health issues so that they can participate in what they want and need to do on a daily basis.1
The best way to decide whether becoming an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant is right for you is to consider your long-term goals. If you’re interested in eventually becoming an occupational therapist or opening your own private practice, you’ll need to get a master’s degree and become licensed. On the other hand, if you’re content working under the supervision of an occupational therapist, then training to be an assistant could be the right option for you.
Occupational Therapy Programs at Stanbridge University
Interested in learning more about occupational therapy pre-licensure programs? Discover Stanbridge University’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program and Occupational Therapy Assistant program.
1Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm. As viewed on October 24, 2022.
2Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm. As viewed on October 24, 2022.
3Source: Employment Development Department, State of California, Occupation Profile, Occupational Therapists, https://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/cgi/databrowsing/occExplorerQSDetails.asp?searchCriteria=occupational+therapist&careerID=&menuChoice=&geogArea=0601000000&soccode=291122&search=Explore+Occupation. As viewed on November 4, 2022.
4Source: Employment Development Department, State of California, Occupation Profile, Occupational Therapy Assistants, https://www.labormarketinfo.edd.ca.gov/cgi/databrowsing/occExplorerQSDetails.asp?menuchoice=&soccode=312011++++&geogArea=0601000000. As viewed on November 4, 2022.