Occupational therapy is an important rehabilitative force among health care careers, and successful therapeutic aims are often achieved by individuals of various levels of responsibility working together as a team. In a somewhat technical support career, occupational therapy aides work alongside licensed therapists to ensure that the therapeutic environment is in the best possible shape for the client.
While occupational therapy assistants are often directly involved in providing therapeutic care under an occupational therapist's direction, occupational therapy aides typically work in a technical and administration capacity. Here are a few common tasks that occupational therapy aides can expect perform on any given day:
- Setting up therapeutic equipment in designated treatment areas
- Transporting patients and assisting with billing and insurance paperwork
- Breaking down or cleaning equipment after therapy sessions conclude
- Maintaining therapy schedules and handling other administrative duties
Many occupational therapy schools offer training for aspiring aides fully online, as well as in campus-based or hybrid formats in certain regions. Candidates should have a moderate degree of physical strength and enjoy working with others.
How much do occupational therapy aides make?
Data released by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that occupational therapy aides around the country earned a range of salaries in 2014, from $18,330 annually for the bottom 10 percent of earners to more than $44,240 for the top 10 percent, averaging to a national mean of $26,550. Certain areas of the country paid more than others for the year, also — here are the five metro areas in the country with the highest occupational therapy aide salary averages for 2014:
- Washington, D.C., and Arlington-Alexandria, VA: $39,260
- Nassau-Suffolk, NY: $38,780
- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA: $37,210
- Fresno, CA: $35,230
- New York, NY: $35,070
Most occupational therapy aides work in doctors' offices, according to the BLS, but those who find jobs elsewhere may have higher average salaries waiting for them. Here are the five top-paying industries for occupational therapy aides in 2014:
- Home health care services: $49,440
- General medical and surgical hospitals: $32,870
- State government: $32,620
- Retirement communities and assisted living facilities: $32,570
- Skilled nursing facilities: $31,780
Hospitals and nursing care facilities were the industries that employed the second- and third-highest numbers of occupational therapy aides, also, which suggests that a fair portion of the projected job growth in the field should occur in these relatively well-paying environments.
Occupational therapy aides are expected to be in reasonably capable physical shape and to have at least a high school diploma. Formal education from occupational therapy schools or intensive on-the-job training programs may be preferred for certain positions, particularly those with a greater degree of independent responsibility.
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET) provides a list of skills and knowledge areas that are tested regularly in occupational therapy aide jobs. Here's a little detail on a few of the traits that many successful occupational therapy aides have in common:
- Active listening: Ability to listen closely and understand instructions
- Service orientation: Desire and willingness to help people
- Basic therapy and counseling: Knowledge of therapeutic and rehabilitative principles and procedures
- Customer and personal service: Aptitude for assessing client needs and taking steps satisfy them
- Problem sensitivity: Ability to sense when a problem has arisen or is likely to arise
- Deductive reasoning: Capacity to solve specific problems by applying general rules
BLS data show that there were approximately 8,750 occupational therapy aides working nationwide in May 2014, with employment concentrated fairly heavily in certain states and metro areas. Illinois was home to the largest chunk of these positions in the year of the report, with most jobs located in the Chicago-Joliet-Naperville metro area.
California, Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania also had considerable numbers of occupational therapy aides on their state employment rolls in 2014. Out of the five high-employment states, California offered the highest mean annual salary for occupational therapy aides.
Projected career growth for occupational therapy aides
National employment of occupational therapy aides is projected to increase by more than three times the national average for all occupations between 2012 and 2022, causing thousands of new positions to be created for graduates of occupational therapy schools. Some states expect faster growth than others, according to independent projections made by regional departments of employment and labor. These five states are projected to grow the fastest:
- Connecticut: 36.1 percent growth
- Iowa: 35.8 percent growth
- Virginia: 35.5 percent growth
- Texas: 34.5 percent growth
- New Mexico: 33.6 percent growth
Candidates with experience working in a hospital, nursing center, occupational therapy office or other rehabilitative care facility are likely to have the best prospects for top occupational therapy aide positions. Some occupational therapy schools may offer short internships or other programs that allow students to enhance their employment prospects by gaining workplace experience while still in school.
1. Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm
2. Occupational Therapy Aides, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312012.htm
3. Occupational Therapy Aides, Occupational Information Network, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/31-2012.00
4. Occupational Therapy Aides, Employment Trends by Occupation Across States, Career InfoNet, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.careerinfonet.org/carout3.asp?optstatus=101000000&id=1&nodeid=2&soccode=312012&stfips=05&jobfam=31&menuMode=&order=Percent
5. Occupational Therapy Aide Career Diploma, Penn Foster Career School, accessed August 21, 2015, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/medical-and-health-careers/occupational-therapy-aide-career-diploma