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Occupational Therapy Assistant Salaries

What is the average occupational therapy assistant salary?

Although pay can vary for any occupation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) was $57,260 as of May 2014 data. However, the median wage for those within the top 10 percent of earners was $76,790 while the median wage for those in the lowest 10 percent was $36,420, according to the BLS. Salaries can differ based on time on the job, experience and certification. The state in which an OTA is employed can also affect pay. In fact, the BLS reports that the mean wages were highest for employees in these states:

  • Nevada: $100,260
  • Texas: $70,610
  • California: $66,580
  • Maryland: $65,350
  • New Jersey: $64,040

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What are the common employment classifications for occupational therapy assistants?

Occupational therapy assistants often choose from various employment classifications. While a professional may seek full-time employment that includes vacation time, sick time and health benefits, others may seek part-time employment. A common classification of therapists is the per diem category. Per diem means "per day." Many organizations find that they need backup for their regular therapists in the event of illness, vacations or fluctuations in the clinical caseload. A health care organization will try to minimize the impact on patients when a therapist needs to be off or away, so they may elect to call a per diem therapist.

Because work is unpredictable for a per diem therapist, and because the hours a per diem therapist works don't usually meet the minimum requirements for leave or health benefits, the hourly wage for a per diem therapist is often higher than a regular therapist who has more secure work and is eligible for benefits. While the decision to accept a regular position over a per diem position is a personal one, many people in the field appreciate the flexibility. In fact, it's not uncommon for someone to have a regular job but also be a per diem therapist at another organization for when they want to work extra hours.

Is this profession in high demand?

The BLS reports that job opportunities for occupational therapy assistants are expected to grow by 43 percent from 2012 to 2022. This growth is much faster than average and could result in 12,900 positions becoming available during this time. Driving job demand will be the growing elderly population in the U.S. who will need more services to treat conditions related to arthritis and stroke. OTAs -- and aides -- can be important in providing them with help and assistance.

Also, occupational therapy assistants will continue to be needed to help provide care to children and adults who have developmental disabilities, including autism. More people should have access to health care coverage, and therefore occupational therapy services, due to changes in federal law expanding coverage benefits. Additionally, therapists may feel that they can save costs by employing an occupational therapy assistant to carry out parts of a prescribed treatment plan, rather than the therapists doing it themself.

Is there room for advancement as an occupational therapy assistant?

Experience is the biggest factor that influences earning potential for an occupational therapy assistant, and this, of course comes with time. Because occupational therapy assistant programs provide training that is broad in scope in order to produce graduates with the widest number of employment options, there is much to learn about specific populations and specialized therapeutics. An OTA who decides to pursue additional training and continued education that includes new methods of therapy may be well positioned to negotiate a higher salary.

However, occupational therapy assistants can also seek out certification that provides testament to the quality and level of their skills. In fact, this is typically required to seek licensure in a state, along with other requirements. Most often, a skills and knowledge examination is taken through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), and continuing education is needed to maintain certification.

OTAs could also find a position in which they are promoted to a head manager or a role to overseeing other occupational therapy assistants. Finally, those who truly enjoy the field but are looking to advance their knowledge, skills and pay may want to become an occupational therapist or physical therapist, although much more education is required.

What are the continuing education requirements?

Most states that license OTAs also require regular continuing education in order to renew the license. Continuing education requirements are typically 16-24 hours of courses every two years, although each state sets its own requirements. Some employers even pay for continuing education as part of a benefits package. Occupational therapy assistants have some choices when it comes to continuing education, so they often deepen their knowledge and expertise specific to the population that is served where they work. Becoming an expert in some of the therapeutic principles that are essential to the health care organization demonstrates value and commitment to the organization, which helps contribute to salary increases.

Occupational therapy as a profession is regulated differently in different states with regard to the use of physical agents and modalities, commonly referred to by the acronym, PAMs. PAMs include the application of heat, ice, ultrasound and electric stimulation. Authorization to use these agents during therapy is regulated on a state level, but many occupational therapists find their professional range is enhanced by getting a PAMs certification as required by their state. OTAs also often find that completing the coursework to be PAMs certified is a benefit to their organization.

Do occupational therapy assistants ever bill insurance companies?

While an outpatient clinic might be billing insurance companies directly, an occupational therapy assistant would not be in a position to do this. As the treatment plan is developed and overseen by the lead occupational therapist, an OTA would not bill for his or her own services directly. The treatment provided by an OTA is under the umbrella of the occupational therapist and as such, responsibility for billing would fall to someone else.


Sources:

  1. Occupational Therapy Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312011.htm
  2. Occupational Therapy Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm

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