Occupational therapy aides salary & career outlook

A diagnosis for any sort of impairment — physical, emotional or developmental — can be challenging, especially when they leave someone unable to care for themselves. Fortunately, rehabilitative therapies can help these patients establish some degree of , if not total, independence — a shift that can improve quality of life dramatically. Occupational therapy aides assist the licensed occupational therapists who provide these valuable services.

What do occupational therapy aides do?

Occupational therapy aides assist licensed occupational therapists in their day-to-day work. Note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics clarifies that occupational therapy aides are different from occupational therapy assistants, who must complete more training and, in most states, become licensed. That may mean OT aides tend to provide less, if any hands-on therapy, but they still work to ensure quality patient care by other means. The following are just a few of the tasks these professionals commonly perform, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net OnLine:

  • Set up and maintain patient work areas
  • Transport patients to and from the work area
  • Prepare and maintain all necessary equipment
  • Supervise patient completing projects or therapies
  • Tracking patients' progress, attitudes and therapy attendance
  • Instruction patients and families in the use and care of adaptive equipment and other tools that facilitate care
  • Help occupational therapists plan, implement and administer therapy programs
  • Set appointments and encourage patients to attend therapy and meet their therapy goals

O*Net OnLine also reports that occupational therapy aides must have strong listening, speaking, writing and critical thinking skills. They should be service- and detail-oriented, and be able to solve complex problems. Training is necessary because they must also be able to complete the more practical, technical details of their work. For some budding professionals, that means attending occupational therapy aide schools or employer training programs.

Training options

The BLS reports that most entry-level occupational therapy aide positions require little more than a high school diploma, but this may be changing. According to O*Net reports, 31 percent of OT aides held associate degrees in 2013, a larger share than the 27 percent who held high school diplomas alone. This additional training through occupational therapy aide schools not only gives graduates an edge in the job market, but it can eventually serve as a stepping stone to careers as licensed occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapy aide programs can also help professionals specialize their training by offering courses that focus on certain types of care, like pediatric or geriatric therapies.

Students can usually complete occupational therapy aide training at community, technical or career schools. The hands-on nature of the field makes it difficult to earn certificates or degrees 100 percent online, but some programs may allow students to complete some of their courses — such as medical terminology or ethics — online. Keep in mind that this training, however it is completed, is an investment not just in one's career, but in the lives of future patients.

Employment outlook

In 2013, O*Net OnLine classified occupational therapy aide as a "bright outlook" career, which means the field is expected to grow rapidly over the next several years. How rapidly? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand for these professionals will grow by 36 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Demand varies regionally, however, with some states needing more aides than others. Using state and federal employment data, Projections Central projects that demand for occupational therapy aides will grow the fastest in the following states between 2010 and 2020:

  • Maryland: 39.8%
  • Idaho: 33.7%
  • District of Columbia: 32.6%

The BLS credits much of the field's growth to an expanding elderly population requiring more care, but the American Occupational Therapy Association notes that new opportunities are also emerging in public schools — thanks to increasing awareness and diagnosis of conditions like autism and certain learning disabilities.

Occupational therapy aide salaries

It can be difficult to say how much an occupational therapy aide will earn because there are so many factors that influence salaries. With this in mind, the BLS reported a mean national occupational therapy aide salary of $26,350 in 2013, with the middle 50 percent earning between $20,640 and $33,770. Those working in home health care services, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, and general medical and surgical hospitals tended to earn the most.

Location can also influence an occupational therapy aide's salary, and earnings tend to vary from one city, state or region to the next. The BLS reports that the following states reported the highest mean annual occupational therapy aide salaries in 2013:

  • District of Columbia: $48,990
  • New York: $36,320
  • Kentucky: $36,190

The following metropolitan regions also reported the highest mean annual occupational therapy aide salaries that same year:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif.: $42,240
  • New Bedford, Mass.: $39,870
  • Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.: $39,260

Training and experience are another key factor driving occupational therapy aides' earnings. Future professionals can learn more about their options by joining a professional organization, like the AOTA, or by contacting occupational therapy aide schools.

Sources:

Occupational Employment and Wages for Occupational Therapy Aides, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312012.htm

Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm

Long Term Occupational Projections for Biomedical Engineers, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Summary Report for: Occupational Therapy Aides, O*Net OnLine, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-2012.00

Occupational Therapy In School Settings, The American Occupational Therapy Association, http://www.aota.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/AboutOT/Professionals/WhatIsOT/CY/Fact-Sheets/School%20Settings%20fact%20sheet.pdf

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