Occupational therapy is concerned with healthy functioning in every day life, in the home and the work place. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people prevent, treat and manage injuries, illnesses and disabilities. Occupational therapy assistants work under occupational therapists and aid them in the development, planning and implementation of patients' treatment plans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for occupational therapy is rapidly increasing and the job outlook for occupational therapy assistants is very good.
To practice as an occupational therapy assistant, a student must hold an associates degree from an accredited Occupational Therapy Assistant program, meaning that the program has been reviewed by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education and has met their standards. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) provides a list of schools, which offer accredited occupational therapy assistant programs in the United States.
The associates degree represents the culmination of a two-year program, which includes course work in subjects ranging from human development and anatomy to legal concerns in health care.
Many occupational therapy assistant programs are offered both online and in a traditional classroom setting.
Occupational therapy assistant students must complete the two levels of fieldwork offered at all accredited colleges. While completing their fieldwork, students receive hands-on training in occupational therapy under the supervision of a certified occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant who has completed at least one year of professional experience, as outlined by AOTA.
In level one fieldwork, students learn how to apply their classroom education to clinical practice primarily through the observation of occupational therapists and assistants at work. Required hours for level one fieldwork are set by individual programs.
Level two consists of 16 weeks of full-time work experience or the equivalent number of hours of part-time work. During level two fieldwork, students expand the breadth of their knowledge base as they work with a variety of clients of all different ages in a number of different settings. Direct participation in the therapeutic process is expected from students in level two fieldwork.
According to AOTA, most states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed. Each state has different licensing requirements. State specific information can be found on AOTA's website provided in the references.
In order to become a licensed occupational therapy assistant in most states, a student is required to have graduated from a program accredited by AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education and to have completed their required fieldwork. The student can then apply for certification by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy and sit for their certification exam, which is a multiple choice test covering such topics as evidence-based practice and professional standards and responsibilities.
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