For individuals with an inclination to help others maintain or recover good health, the healthcare industry continues to be an excellent career option. An aging American population that is expected to stay active longer is helping drive the need for healthcare workers.
One of the careers where that demand is especially high is occupational therapy assistant.
Over the coming years, federal projections call for a significant increase in the number of jobs within the profession, which typically involves helping patients recover mobility through exercise and other physical activities.
There were more than 38,000 occupational therapy assistants employed nationwide in 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Working for therapy clinics, nursing homes, hospitals and home healthcare providers, these healthcare professionals provide services to patients who are seeking to recover normal range of motion and movement following an illness or injury.
Typically, an occupational therapist will work with the assistant in developing a treatment plan for patients. The assistant is often the hands-on provider, working directly with patients to accomplish exercise tasks after a course of treatment has been devised.
An occupational therapy assistant’s duties can include demonstrating proper methods of performing exercises, such as stretches for various parts of the body. When working with children, therapy assistants may show youngsters how to play certain physical games that help promote coordination, strength and flexibility.
They also help patients work with specialized equipment, and are often tasked with maintaining records and keeping track of patient progress.
Job Outlook and Salary Range for Occupational Therapy Assistants
The BLS projects a 43% increase in the jobs for occupational therapy assistants through 2024, primarily driven by the therapeutic needs of a growing number of aging Baby Boomers who will require more occupational therapy. Also, the trend of providers using more assistants to reduce cost will help drive employment, as will more people obtaining access to health insurance, according to the BLS.
Improvements in methods to diagnose children with developmental disorders such Autism Spectrum Disorders will increase the number of children and young adults needing occupational therapy, the BLS said.
Occupational therapy assistants had a median annual salary of $59,010 in May 2016. Those working for home healthcare services had the highest average pay of $66,430, while assistants at skilled nursing facilities had the second highest average salary of $64,710, the BLS said.
Employment opportunities and potential salary ranges can be affected by a number of factors, including a candidate’s educational attainment and professional experience, as well as by regional market conditions.
Education and Training for Occupational Therapy Assistants
In order to be effective, occupational therapy assistants should be able to communicate clearly, grasp details quickly and stay organized. They must also be compassionate and in good physical condition.
Typically, these healthcare professionals are required to have at least a two-year associate’s degree, often coupled with experience in a clinical setting. Many states also have licensure requirements for occupational therapy assistants, the BLS reported, and certification is offered through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
Career advancement opportunities may be available to occupational therapy assistants who attain additional educational qualifications.