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Overview of Occupational Therapy Assistant Degrees

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An associate degree is required to become an occupational therapy assistant. During an associate degree program, students will be involved in studying material such as medical terminology, kinesiology, and intervention techniques. Over the course of two years, students will develop their knowledge and skills through both classroom and fieldwork settings. Graduates will then be ready to move on to work as occupational therapist assistants who aid and support occupational therapists in their practices. Programs above the associate degree level often lead to qualifying to work as an occupational therapist rather than an assistant.

Students also have the option of attending combination programs, which enable them to earn bachelor's degrees and graduate degrees. Students can complete a combination program in four years. Graduates will be able to begin their practice as occupational therapists and may also teach their craft at the university level if desired. Professionals who have gained some experience working as occupational therapists will also be eligible to earn doctoral degrees, which can be completed in two to three years. Graduates will be ready to move on to leadership positions and also open their own private practice.

Whether individuals choose to become occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants, they will play an important role in their patients lives by helping them cope with disabilities and injuries. Occupational therapists and their assistants will develop interventions and therapeutic techniques that will improve the overall health of their patients. 

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Occupational Therapy Assistant Associate Degrees 

Students involved in an associate degree program in occupational therapy assistance will learn about the physical, psychological, and social needs of individuals and how to aid them in rebuilding their overall health. This knowledge and skill set will be gained through general education requirements as well as major-specific requirements, which can be completed in just 20 months. Key courses that make up the required 60-credit hours of study include medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, psychology, kinesiology, pediatric practice for the occupational therapy assistant, specific populations for the occupational therapy assistant, and professional development strategies. Some programs may also require that their students complete up to eight weeks of fieldwork to gain hands-on experience prior to graduation.

Applicants must submit their high school transcripts or proof of satisfactory completion of GED testing in order to be considered for admission. A placement exam may also be required for many associate programs as well. Upon graduation graduates will be prepared to work in a number of settings as occupational therapy assistants including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, and nursing facilities. Cost of annual tuition will vary based on the college attended and can range anywhere between $6,447 and $39,330.

Occupational Therapy Bachelor's Degrees 

The minimum educational requirement to become an occupational therapist is a master's degree. Due to this requirement many post secondary institutions offer combination occupational therapist programs in which the first half awards students with their bachelor's degree. Over the course of four years students will study the different ways in which daily activities can affect the human body and its overall health. By learning to understand such effects students will also learn how to implement different therapeutic techniques to improve their patient's bodily abilities and well-being. Required courses include functional anatomy, human development, health services, evaluation process, enhancing human performance, disabling conditions, and occupational practice and analysis. Program credits typically total 120 hours. Once students have completed all necessary requirements to earn their bachelor's degree they will be ready to move on to the next stage of education, which is a master's program. Prerequisites include a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Some programs are considered fairly competitive, thus a letter of recommendation may also be required for acceptance. Annual tuition will vary from program to program. Often the tuition falls somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 a year, though there are several programs that fall outside of this range.

Occupational Therapy Master's Degrees

In order to become a licensed occupational therapists an individual will need to earn a master's degree. Students can graduate with their degree in two years by completing up to 36 credit hours of study. Students will be required to participate in classes like occupation and rehabilitation science, professional decision-making, and reflective and evidence-based practice. These courses go over topics such as perspectives on human performance and how to best address each patient's needs as a professional practitioner. Clinical work is also a crucial part of the learning experience at this level. Prospective students will need to hold a bachelor's degree in a like discipline with an average GPA of at least 3.0. After completing all program requirements graduates will be ready to become licensed and begin their practice at a variety of healthcare facilities or even go on fill teaching positions at the university level. After gaining some work experience master's degree holders will have the educational background they need to move on to doctoral programs if it's within their aspirations. Tuition for these programs tends to run between $15,000 and $30,000 a year, though there are of course programs that fall outside of this range.

Occupational Therapy Doctoral Degrees

Current occupational therapists that are looking to further their careers as leaders or researchers will want to consider earning a doctorate degree, which can be earned in two to three years. Classes that will ready students will take include fundamentals of biostatistics, statistical inference, theory development for models of practice, the health professional as academic educator, contextual aspects of occupational performance, and leadership development. Students will also have to complete a dissertation during their doctoral studies. Individuals interested in pursuing a doctorate degree must have a master's degree in occupational therapy or a similar field. Transcripts from all previous colleges attended must be turned in and must reflect a minimum grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Depending on the program two to three letters of recommendation will be required from an academic advisor, professor, or supervisor who can attest to the applicant's likely success in the program. One letter must be from a currently licensed occupational therapist. Lastly an admissions letter written by the applicant outlining their educational and professional goals is required. The majority of doctoral programs in this field have annual tuition that runs below $30,000.

The Importance of Accreditation

For aspiring occupational therapists or occupational therapist assistants seeking an educational program that isn't accredited is not an option. The reason being is that all states require that OT and OTAs be licensed. In order to take the exam to become licensed all applicants must have a degree earned from an accredited institution or program. Accreditation is awarded to programs or colleges by outside accrediting agencies that review for certain levels of quality. This will give both students and their future employers a level of confidence that they poses the necessary skills needed to be successful within their practice upon graduation. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the main accrediting body for occupational therapy and occupational assistant programs. AOTA currently accredits 389 programs throughout the country and is recognized by both the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Aspiring OT and OTAs can find an accredited program directly on the AOTA website. 


Occupational therapist assistants and occupational therapists must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam to become certified, which nearly all states require. Certification aids in ensuring that professionals are maintaining their practice competency and are keeping up with industry standards. It must also be noted that OT and OTAs working in an educational environment may need certain educational-related credentials such as a teaching certificate. 

Specialties in the Field

Upon graduation occupational therapist assistants and occupational therapists have the option of earning specialty certification through the AOTA . The AOTA offers specialization certifications in a few areas, including mental health, pediatrics, gerontology, and physical rehabilitation. Specialty certification is voluntary but it will showcase the professional's commitment and expertise within their field and practice.


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