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Occupational Therapist Assistant

Occupational therapist assistants help occupational therapists implement treatment programs that are designed to develop, improve or maintain clients' abilities to function independently.

Also Known As:Health Care Assistant, Occupational/Physical Therapist Assistant, Rehabilitation Services Practitioner, Therapist Assistant
NOC Number(s):3414.2
Minimum Education:2 years post-secondary education/training
Employment Outlook:Job openings generated due to employment turnover. Occupational outlook currently unavailable.
Interests:M S o

Duties | Working Conditions | Personal Characteristics | Education | Employment | Salary | Other Information | Related Occupations | Related School Subjects | Related Field of Study

Duties

Occupational therapist assistants work under the supervision of occupational therapists to support their work with clients whose abilities to function and adapt have been impaired by illness or injury, mental health disorders, developmental disorders, social disabilities or aging. Clients range in age from infants to the elderly.

Occupational therapist assistants:

  • gather relevant materials in preparation for client treatment and education
  • implement treatment plans designed by occupational therapists for individual clients and groups
  • maintain and promote a positive attitude toward clients and their treatment programs
  • help clients learn skills needed for daily living (self-care, productivity and leisure)
  • help clients maintain or improve performance in moving, thinking and social-emotional areas
  • assist in completing splints and creating or repairing assistive devices
  • measure clients for appropriately sized wheel chairs and fabricate adaptations as required
  • educate clients on the proper use of wheelchairs
  • assist in educating clients regarding joint protection techniques and energy conservation
  • lead or participate in treatment groups
  • observe and document client behaviour, and report to the supervising therapist 
  • prepare, clean, maintain, adjust and make minor repairs to equipment
  • maintain inventories, and order supplies and equipment
  • schedule appointments and collect statistics.

For example, an occupational therapist assistant may:

  • guide a child with co-ordination problems in a game that teaches skills needed for dressing and undressing
  • help someone who has arthritis practice using specially designed tools for cooking and cleaning
  • help someone who has mental health problems to practice and gain confidence in community living and social skills.

Working Conditions

Occupational therapist assistants work in a variety of settings including hospitals, continuing or long term care facilities, schools and private homes. These can be high stress environments. To avoid injury, occupational therapist assistants must use proper methods for lifting and moving clients and equipment that may weigh up to 20 kilograms.

Most assistants work daytime hours, although their hours can vary. In some environments, evening and weekend work is required.


Personal Characteristics

Occupational therapist assistants need the following characteristics:

  • physical and mental fitness
  • patience, tact and flexibility
  • good observation skills
  • good organizational skills
  • sensitivity to clients' feelings and needs
  • the interpersonal skills required to work effectively with people of various ages who may be under physical or emotional stress
  • the ability to follow directions
  • the ability to work independently and as part of a team
  • the creative and manual skills required for activities such as crafts, music, carpentry and sewing
  • good oral and written communication skills 
  • the strength and stamina required to assist people who have disabilities.

They should enjoy having clear guidelines for their work, helping people individually and in groups, and handling and maintaining equipment and supplies.


Educational Requirements

Employers generally prefer to hire graduates of related post-secondary diploma programs.

In Alberta, the following post-secondary institutions offer related diploma programs:

  • Grant MacEwan University offers a two year Therapist Assistant diploma program with a combined physical therapist assistant/occupational therapist assistant major. Applicants must have a high school diploma with a minimum overall average of at least 65 per cent (with no course grade lower than 50 per cent) in English Language Arts 30-1 or 30-2, Biology 30, Chemistry 30 or Science 30 and two other required courses.
  • Medicine Hat College offers a two year Occupational Therapist Assistant diploma program onsite and by distance education. Applicants must have a high school diploma with at least 60 per cent in English Language Arts 30-1, Biology 30, and two other Grade 12 subjects, one of which must be a 30 level science or math.
  • The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) in Calgary offers a 14 month Rehabilitation Therapy Assistant diploma program on campus with some self-study and online components. Students take a core curriculum for the first two semesters (September - April) then branch into one of two areas: occupational therapist assistant or physical therapist assistant. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent with an average of at least 60 per cent in English Language Arts 30-1, Biology 30, and Chemistry 20 or Science 20.

For all programs, CPR for Health Care Professionals and Standard First Aid certification, current immunizations, and a clear criminal record check including vulnerable sector check are required at the time of admission and updates may be required over the course of the program.

For current information about programs, admission requirements and mature student admission policies, please check post-secondary calendars or websites.

Section revised April 2012

Employment and Advancement

Occupational therapist assistants are employed by:

  • regional health authorities (hospitals, rehabilitation centres) 
  • schools
  • home care programs
  • continuing care centres
  • mental health agencies and institutions
  • vocational rehabilitation programs
  • community organizations
  • correctional facilities 
  • private practices.

Some positions involve working as a physical therapist assistant as well as an occupational therapist assistant (for more information, see the Physical Therapist Assistant occupational profile).

Opportunities for advancement are limited.

Occupational therapist assistants are part of the larger National Occupational Classification 3414: Other Assisting Occupations in Support of Health Services. In Alberta, most people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • location in Alberta
  • employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Section revised November 2013

Salary

According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans in the Other Assisting Occupations in Support of Health Services occupational group earned on average from $16.80 to $23.60 an hour. The mean wage for this group was $20.11 an hour.

For more detailed information, see WAGEinfo.

Wages for occupational therapist assistants typically range from $20.23 to $24.49 an hour (2010 estimate).

For information about current collective agreements in the public and not-for-profit sectors, see the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) website.

Section revised February 2012

Other Sources of Information

Post-secondary institution calendars and websites (see Educational Requirements above)

EDinfo website: www.alis.alberta.ca/edinfo

Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) website: www.caot.ca (search term: support personnel)

Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) website: www.hsaa.ca

Therapy Assistant Association of Alberta (ThAAA) website: www.thaaa.ca


Related Occupational Profiles
Chiropractic Assistant
Community Disability Services Practitioner
Dental Assistant
Educational Assistant
Occupational Therapist
Ophthalmic Medical Personnel
Physical Therapist Assistant
Recreation Co-ordinator
Recreation Therapy Aide
Speech-Language Assistant

Related High School Subjects
English Language Arts; Fine Arts (Music; and Visual Arts); Health, Recreation and Human Services (Health Care Services; and Recreation Leadership); and Science (Biology; and Chemistry)

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
Health Care and Medical Sciences

Produced November 2010
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For more information on career planning, occupations and educational programs, visit the Alberta Learning Information Service (ALIS) website at alis.alberta.ca, call the Alberta Career Information Hotline toll-free at 1-800-661-3753 or 780-422-4266 in Edmonton or visit an Alberta Works Centre near you.

The information contained in this profile was current as of the dates shown. Salaries, employment outlook and educational programs may change. Please check the information before making any career decisions.


Government of Alberta, Human Services