Occupational Therapy Assistant

Helping others gain their independence can be a wonderful career opportunity.

Young or old, we all have a job to do: the job of living. Learning, growing, playing, working, managing our homes, and caring for our families could all be considered some of life's occupations. Unfortunately, physical, emotional, or other challenges often prevent individuals from fully participating in these duties of everyday living.

Disease, injury, mental illness, or developmental problems can make it difficult to do everyday activities independently and safely. Occupational therapy assistants make it possible for people to regain independence and live life to its fullest. By choosing a career in occupational therapy, you will make a difference! You will be able to improve the lives of people of all ages, from newborns to the very old (AOTA, 2010).

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) focus on helping people of all ages regain, develop, or master everyday skills in order to live independent, productive, and satisfying lives. Working under the supervision of occupational therapists, the OTA’s ultimate goal is to improve an individual’s quality of life by helping him or her live as independently and safely as possible. As an OTA, you may be asked to:

  • Train individuals in the use of rehab devices, adaptive equipment, wheelchair mobility, orthotics, prosthetics, or adaptive driving
  • Train individuals or caregivers in daily living skills such as eating, dressing, safety, and home management skills
  • Help individuals develop sensory, neuromuscular, cognitive, and motor skills
  • Design and fabricate splints
  • Modify the environment, apply ergonomic principles, and be involved in care coordination and case management
  • Promote education, work, leisure activities, and exercise
  • Monitor and record patient progress
  • Schedule appointments and assist in billing

Occupational therapy assistants work for physicians, hospitals, nursing homes, elder care facilities, home healthcare services, school systems, early intervention programs for infants and toddlers, pediatric units, mental health centers, and government agencies. Students today can look forward to dynamic careers working in multiple settings with individuals of all ages (AOTA, 2010).

A vibrant and growing profession with multiple opportunities for advancement.

Many OTAs advance into administration positions. They may manage a large occupational therapy department in a hospital or act as the director for a specific department such as a hand clinic or dementia unit in a nursing home. Some assistants go on to teach classes in accredited occupational therapy assistant academic programs or lead health risk reduction classes for the elderly. Other occupational therapy assistants work in research.

A rewarding career if you have patience as well as persistence.

Successful occupational therapists know how to encourage individuals through what can sometimes be a slow and frustrating process. Interventions are client-centered and unique to each individual. Occupational therapy assistants use “occupations” that have meaning and value for the client to help improve health, well-being, and quality of life.

A career as an OTA could be right for you if you:

  • Enjoy helping people
  • Are interested in the human body and how it functions
  • Have strong communication skills
  • Have strong interpersonal skills
  • Are a good problem solver
  • Enjoy working with others
  • Are creative and flexible

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What are the career opportunities in this field?

In a newly-released study (JIST,2008) occupational therapy assistant was named one of the 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. Occupational therapists are expected to employ more assistants to reduce the cost of their services. Once a patient is evaluated and the therapist designs a treatment plan, the OTA can provide many aspects of treatment.

Improved technology is another reason for the higher demand for OTAs. Chronic illnesses that once caused death have better prognosis and treatments. Today we can detect problems in infants and children much earlier and provide early intervention.

Occupational therapy assistants can work with adults who have suffered traumas such as strokes and spinal cord injuries as well as children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and autism. In addition, OTAs can choose to work in a hand therapy clinic specializing in hand injuries or consult with manufacturing industries in the prevention of on-the-job injuries.


Many occupational therapist assistants also advance into administration positions. They may manage a large occupational therapy department in a hospital or act as the director for a specific department such as the dementia unit in a nursing home. Some assistants go on to teach classes in accredited occupational therapy assistant academic programs or lead health risk reduction classes for the elderly. Others prefer working in research.

What certification/licensure does this program prepare you for?

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certifies occupational therapy assistants through a national certifying exam. Those who pass the exam are awarded the title Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). Once certified, the COTA can apply for a state license in the state he or she chooses to practice in. Not all states require an additional license and requirements vary from state to state. Please check with your state health department for these requirements.


Most states, including Guam, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, regulate the practice of occupational therapist assistants either by licensing, registration, or certification. Eligibility requirements vary by state. Contact your state’s licensing board for specific regulatory requirements of occupational therapy assistants. In Minnesota, the applicant MUST have graduated from an accredited OTA program and passed the NBCOT exam. A fee and background check are also required. For more information go to http://www.health.state.mn.us.

Some states have additional requirements for occupational therapy assistants who work in schools or early intervention programs. These requirements may include education-related classes, an education practice certificate, or early intervention certification.

What is the program title, length, and content?

Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Info Chart

Program Credits Months
Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant 71 24
*Average number of months for students to complete program

Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant

At Herzing University, the associate of applied science degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant combines academic and theoretical knowledge with hands-on field work. Students learn the principles of occupational therapy as well as the basics in medical terminology, kinesiology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and assistive technology.  Download Program Course Sheet

To see the NBCOT pass rate click Here.

Which locations offer this program?

Minneapolis Campus