Occupational Therapy Assistant Career Information

The following information is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides. Please visit the website for a more comprehensive breakdown of the data.



Occupational therapy assistants help patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working. They are directly involved in providing therapy to patients. Occupational therapy assistants work under the direction of registered occupational therapists.

**It should be noted that an occupational therapy aide is a different position. An aide does not directly provide care to a patient like an assistant does. Instead an aide is responsible for setting up equipment, helping with billing and insurance, and performing other clerical tasks.**

Job Duties

  • Help patients do therapeutic activities, such as stretches and other exercises
  • Lead children who have developmental disabilities in play activities that promote coordination and socialization
  • Encourage patients to complete activities and tasks
  • Teach patients how to use special equipment (for example, showing a patient with Parkinson’s disease how to use devices that make eating easier)
  • Record patients’ progress, report to occupational therapists, and do other administrative tasks


National Average Annual Pay (2019): $61,880

Top 5 States

1. New Jersey


2. Nevada


3. California


4. Virginia


5. Texas


Bottom 5 States

50. South Dakota


49. Wisconsin


48. Minnesota


47. Michigan


46. Nebraska



To become an occupational therapy assistant, you will need an associate’s degree from an occupational therapy assistant program. All states regulate this practice.

After completing the program, you must complete fieldwork to gain experience before being eligible to sit for the exam. Only after taking and passing the exam will you be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). You will not be able to practice as an occupational therapy assistant without this. You also will need to apply for a license in your state once you are certified.

The COTA certification is good for 3 years before you will need to renew it.

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers specialty certificates in specialized areas.

  • 1. Enter an Accredited Occupational Therapy Assistant Program

    The program will take about 2 years to complete.

  • 2. Participate in Fieldwork

    To gain hands-on work experience, you will need to complete at least 16 weeks of fieldwork.

  • 3. Take the Exam

  • 4. Become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA)

    Certification does automatically give you licensure. Make sure to comply with state guidelines to obtain an occupational therapy assistant license or permit in your state.

  • 5. Advance Your Career to an Occupational Therapist

    To be an Occupational Therapist, you will need a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The average annual salary is $86,210. The highest average annual is in Nevada at $105,450 per year and the lowest is in North Dakota at $70,350.


Detail Oriented

Occupational therapy assistants must quickly and accurately follow the instructions, both written and spoken, of an occupational therapist.


Occupational therapy assistants frequently work with patients who struggle with many of life’s basic activities. As a result, they should be compassionate and have the ability to encourage others.

Interpersonal Skills

Occupational therapy assistants spend much of their time interacting with patients and therefore should be friendly and courteous. They also should communicate clearly with patients and with patients’ families.


Occupational therapy assistants must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, assistants may need to be creative when working with occupational therapists to determine the best therapy to achieve a patient’s goals.

Physical Strength

Occupational therapy assistants need to have a moderate degree of strength because of the physical exertion required to assist patients. Constant kneeling, stooping, and standing for long periods also are part of the job.

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