Occupational therapy is crucial to helping people remain (or become) physically independent and competent for as long as possible. It’s an important job that benefits a wide segment of the population at all different stages in life. Whether patients are recuperating from an accident, trying to cope with the challenges of old age or battling a disability, occupational therapy is a necessary aspect in maintaining a higher quality of life for millions of people around the world. In the realm of occupational therapy, the OT vs COTA debate is one that many healthcare professionals encounter in their careers.
Are you looking to start a career in occupational therapy, but unsure which path to go down? There are many routes that you can embark upon, the most common of the two being occupational therapist (OT), sometimes known as registered occupational therapist (OTR), or certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA), sometimes known as just occupational therapy assistant (OTA). Aside from the differences in titles, what sets these professions apart – and which one is right for you?
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is a healthcare division which aims to help people participate in everyday activities by promoting health and well-being through physical activity. It is the goal of occupational therapists to assist people in maintaining the ability to do their desired activities (known as ‘occupations’) as comfortably as possible. Occupational therapists can practice in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and more. Some even choose to practice in their own facilities or travel to patients’ homes.
Having a certification as an occupational therapist means you are able to carry out any and all functions of the profession. This includes assessing patients, making treatment plans, documenting progress and approving the discharge of patients. OTs also have the opportunity to choose a specialty in the profession, such as focusing on patients with mental health complications.
In terms of educational requirements, the road to becoming an OT is certainly longer than that of a COTA. Occupational therapists must have a minimum of a master’s degree in addition to a Bachelor’s degree; many then choose to continue even further by pursuing a doctorate. In addition to extensive (valuable) schooling, OTs must also have practical experience.
Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant
Like the title suggests, occupational therapy assistants provide OTs with support in their day-to-day practices. They are usually more directly involved with the hands-on support of patients, under the direction of an OT. They don’t have the authority to implement their own treatment plans or make any definitive decisions regarding the patient, but rather carry out those crafted by an OT.
The years of schooling required to become a COTA are significantly fewer than that of an OT. You can obtain this title with a two-year associate degree, but some decide to complete a four-year Bachelor’s. Of course, there is always the option for COTAs to continue their studies to become an OT.
OT and COTA Working Together
Of course, COTAs assist OTs in many ways. Arguably the most important element of the OT vs COTA relationship is their ability to communicate effectively with one another as equals. Since there will be times when they are not physically working side-by-side, both OTs and COTAs need effective communication skills in order to treat patients accurately.
The specific requirements for each role vary slightly between healthcare facilities, and individual dynamics will differ. Essentially, both professions carry out similar tasks, but their authority levels are what sets them apart.
OT vs COTA: Which is right for me?
The path that you choose to go down in your occupational therapy career can be influenced by a number of factors – salary, education requirements and responsibility are a few of them. However, beyond technicalities, it’s crucial to consider the kind of person you are and how you like to work. Do you want to focus on learning how to develop treatments or do you want to be the one deploying them? Are you more behind the scenes or more hands-on? At the end of the day, the decision should come from a personal place. Either way, you can rest assured that you have chosen to be part of a profession that truly helps people.
Are you on the hunt for a new professional opportunity in the world of occupational therapy? Radius has job postings all across the country, so you can apply to an open opportunity here or discuss what you are looking for with a recruiter here.