What is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant?

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  • Written By: K T Solis
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 15 March 2020
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A certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) is a health care professional who has passed a national certification exam that allows him or her to work in the occupational therapy field. This certification is required by most states in the United States. People who work in occupational therapy teach injured patients how to improve muscle strength and flexibility so that such patients can resume their daily activities at home and work. They also teach developmentally disabled patients important life-coping skills. If a person wishes to become a certified occupational therapy assistant, he or she will work closely with an occupational therapist.

Someone who wishes to become an occupational therapy assistant first enrolls in a community college or career school that offers a program in this field. Completion of these programs generally leads to an associate's degree or career certificate. Typical courses in an occupational therapy assistant program include classes in medical terminology, rehabilitation theory, gerontology, pediatrics, psychology, anatomy and physiology, and physical and mental disabilities. Students also receive hands-on training within medical facilities.


After graduating from an occupational therapy assistant program, the graduate is often required to pass a certification exam to be eligible for employment. A new certified occupational therapy assistant can expect to work in a variety of settings. He or she can work in hospitals, home health care, occupational therapist offices, nursing homes, and other kinds of medical facilities. The certified occupational therapist assistant works under the direct supervision of an occupational therapist, assisting with the treatment of patients.

A typical day of a certified occupational therapy assistant may include a variety of scenarios. The assistant may help a person with cerebral palsy improve fine motor skills or teach a recently disabled person how to adapt to a new way of performing basic movements and skills. The occupational therapy assistant may even teach developmentally disabled patients the important skills they need to live independently.

Certified occupational therapy assistants constantly monitor and record their patients' progress and share this information with the occupational therapist. They may be required to assist with administrative tasks such as health insurance billing and the completion of insurance paperwork. Depending on the type of medical facilities in which they work, occupational therapy assistants may be required to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Since they deal with patients and medical personnel on a daily basis, occupational therapy assistants must possess excellent people skills. They must carry out their duties in an efficient, competent manner to set patients at ease.



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