Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Job Description

A certified occupational therapy assistant manages patient rehabilitation, recovery, and general health by directly supporting the efforts and activities of occupational therapists. This role exists in many settings, including rehabilitation centers and hospitals, but many certified occupational therapy assistants also provide at-home care. In addition to helping patients overcome physical limitations and injuries, many certified occupational therapy assistants also support patients with social or mental health issues and help them live more productive and independent lives.

Because they work with a wide range of individuals, certified occupational therapy assistants need to be flexible and compassionate. They should be able to successfully design and implement treatment and care in collaboration with occupational therapists.


Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

Certified occupational therapy assistants work in a variety of locations, and their daily responsibilities can vary from patient to patient. However, we found that most certified occupational therapy assistants share several core responsibilities:

Evaluate Patients

Certified occupational therapy assistants begin the treatment process by evaluating patients’ health and wellness. They may conduct tests take measurements of a patient’s mobility, emotional and social skills, and overall health prior as they begin to formulate a treatment plan. Through this process, certified occupational therapy assistants may find out about patient pain levels, discover issues related to an illness or injury, or assess a patient’s personality and mental health.

Create Treatment Plans

Certified occupational therapy assistants work with occupational therapists to develop both long- and short-term patient treatment plans. These plans may incorporate inpatient sessions and methods as well as at-home exercises. These plans can vary depending on a patient’s goals and needs and can include both group activities or one-on-one therapy to restore and enhance the patient’s independence and quality of life. Certified occupational therapy assistants also help ensure that treatment plans follow both local and federal regulations.

Implement Occupational Therapy Activities

Another of the certified occupational therapy assistant’s main duties is to implement treatment plans. They may utilize tools and activities to increase strength and mobility for injured patients or work closely with patients who have social or emotional limitations to provide a greater sense of independence by using public transportation and cooking meals. While many of these therapeutic methods are utilized at a healthcare facility, the certified occupational therapy assistant may also visit patients at home.

Monitor Patient Progress

To support patient success, certified occupational therapy assistants maintain thorough records of patient progress and issues. Most certified occupational therapy assistants then provide these records to the supervising occupational therapist. These records help occupational therapists and assistants compare patient wellness levels to benchmarks established during the development of their therapy plan. In some cases, certified occupational therapy assistants may also recommend changing treatment plans or incorporating new activities to improve patient outcomes.

Operate Therapeutic Equipment

Certified occupational therapy assistants also tend to use a wide variety of devices and equipment, ranging from strength and functional capacity evaluation equipment to passive training machines and exercise equipment. The certified occupational therapy makes key decisions about using these devices and equipment both in conducting their initial patient evaluation and working therapeutic technologies into ongoing treatment.


Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Skills and Qualifications

Certified occupational therapy assistants need to be flexible and patient as they assist patients with a wide range of physical, emotional, and social issues. Hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers typically hire candidates with at least an associate degree and the following skills:

  • Patient Evaluation Skills – Certified occupational therapy assistants are skilled with a variety of evaluation and observation methods to assess patients’ physical, mental, social, and emotional health
  • Therapeutic Modalities – Throughout the treatment process, certified occupational therapy assistants employ therapeutic methods to ensure patient success
  • Documentation Skills – Maintaining detailed records of patient treatments, health issues, and progress is important in this role, so certified occupational therapy assistants have experience keeping patient records and observations
  • Collaboration Skills – Certified occupational therapists collaborate with occupational therapists to develop treatment plans and also tend to work closely with other healthcare providers to implement occupational therapy activities
  • Communication Skills – To successfully work with occupational therapists, healthcare providers, and patients, certified occupational therapists need strong written and verbal communication skills


Tools of the Trade

Most certified occupational therapy assistants work in healthcare facilities or at a patient’s home and use:

  • Evaluation Devices – (strength, functional capacity, and muscle measurement tools)
  • Therapeutic Equipment – (passive exercise machines and strength-building equipment)


Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Lead Education and Training

Typically, certified occupational therapy assistants need at least an associate degree. This degree, usually from a two-year program, should be from a school accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Newly certified occupational therapy assistants are also required to complete 16 weeks of fieldwork under the direct supervision of an occupational therapist. In many cases, healthcare facilities require certified occupational therapy assistants to be certified in CPR.


Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the median annual salary for certified occupational therapy assistants was $59,010 in May 2016. The lowest-paid 10 percent of workers in this role earned an annual salary of less than $39,160, while the highest earners made over $80,090 per year. These higher-paying roles tend to be within home healthcare.

The BLS estimates that employment for certified occupational therapy assistants will increase rapidly between 2016 and 2026, with employment increasing by 29 percent as baby boomers age and need more comprehensive healthcare.


Helpful Resources

We searched the web and found many resources if you’re interested in learning more about a career in this rapidly-growing field:

American Occupational Therapy Organization (AOTO) – The AOTO is a professional organization that provides opportunities for further education and career advancement for occupational therapists and assistants.

Occupational Therapy Toolkit: Treatment Guides and Handouts – This book by Cheryl A. Hall provides resources for occupational therapists and assistants, including treatment guides and patient handouts.

“Why You Should Consider a Career in Occupational Therapy” – Read this article to find out why the occupational therapy field is expected to see increasing growth in the coming years.

Willard and Spackman’s Occupational Therapy – Read about the principles and practices of occupational therapy for patients handling a wide variety of physical and emotional limitations.


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