Are you an Occupational Therapy Assistant considering the next step of becoming an Occupational Therapist? The investment in your personal and professional future can be accomplished by pursuing the right OTA to OT bridge programs.
In this article we’ll review:
- the differences between OTAs and OTs,
- how to become an OT,
- finding the right occupational therapy bridge programs,
- and tips for success.
There are many professional and personal reasons you may be seeking out OTA to OT bridge programs.
You may have become a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) with the intention of always becoming an Occupational Therapist (OT) in the future.
Or, you may have decided to take the next step as a result of working closely with an OT who inspired you.
Regardless of your reasoning, occupational therapy bridge programs exist to help you reach your professional goals in a way that fits your life.
The major differences between the two professions are:
- required level of schooling
- amount of patient involvement
- fieldwork experience
- median salary
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An OTA requires a two-year associate’s degree while an OT requires a four-year masters degree. You can find OTA to OT schools with programs that work for your current schooling.
OTs are responsible for developing a therapeutic care plan based on patient needs while OTAs serve a supporting role in these plans.
An OTA is only able to observe an OTs fieldwork and learn under supervision. An OT is responsible for creating and executing therapy plans. OTAs in a program seeking their OT license are required to complete fieldwork (hours vary based on the program and prior experience).
An OTA earns a median salary of approximately $57,870, while an OT earns a median salary of approximately $80,150.
The need for OTA to OT bridge programs continues to rise.
Taking full advantage of these OTA bridge programs ensures that OT licensure can be obtained in a streamlined and effective manner. This is accomplished through a specifically tailored educational curriculum designed for working OTAs.
Becoming an Occupational Therapist
This informational article from OTCareerPath.com outlines the major steps a student takes on their educational path to becoming an Occupational Therapist. Occupational therapist assistant to occupational therapist programs requires ample time in the field. Many OTs begin as OTAs and work their way up.
Anyone seeking a job in the OT field must pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy exam after they have completed their formal education and fieldwork.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) provides a wealth of resources for those seeking Occupational Therapy licensure, ongoing education, events/conferences and general news in the field. Also available on the website are resources for OTAs.
Finding the Right Occupational Therapy Bridge Programs
Occupational Therapy Assistants looking to become an Occupational Therapist will have likely taken some of the courses necessary to fulfill the remaining OT requirements. Oftentimes, the two-year master’s program can be expedited by applying past credits and fieldwork.
OTA to OT programs were created for working adults who cannot afford to return to school full time. These programs offer a way for working OTAs to obtain an OT degree through:
- distance learning,
- on-site classes,
- and weekend classes.
Aspects of OTA to OT bridge programs differ, so it is important to review what each program includes, and how your prior experience fits into any given program. Using your prior education and work experience is key to keeping your time and financial investments as low as possible.
For example, certain programs require an OTA to obtain a bachelor’s degree before moving on to pursue an OT master’s degree. Others may allow students to take additional courses that allow entry into a master’s program by building onto the courses are taken for OTA certification.
Find an OT bridge program that works for you with this resource list, organized by state.
Most OTA to OT bridge programs can be completed in two to three years and are a blend of in-classroom, online and fieldwork learning. We recommend reaching out to each of the OT bridge programs that intrigue you and speaking with an advisor who can expertly determine how much of your past education and professional experience can count towards your new goal.
Tips for Success with OTA to OT Bridge Programs
Going back to school while in the midst of your career is a commitment that takes determination and self-motivation. We gathered a series of tips to help you achieve your goals while maintaining a healthy life balance.
1. Set Realistic Goals
OTA to OT Bridge Programs is designed to take up to three years because candidates are working full time. Go into the process knowing that the length of time may seem long, but rushing it will only create stress.
If you know that certain times of year are busier for you professionally or personally, consider lightening your course load during this time. You may also consider taking half or full days off from your job when your syllabus shows an exam coming up.
Proactively managing the time spent on each of your major responsibilities will lower the risk of burning out. Columbia University elaborates on this tactic for work/school/life balance here.
2. Enlist Family, Friends and Outside Help for Support
Leaning on your support system is a great way to balance work and school. Your spouse or partner, parents, friends and neighbors are all people to turn to when the need arises.
In certain instances, hiring help inside or outside the home may prove to be a valuable use of discretionary funds. Think about the services that can free up valuable hours for studying and classwork:
- grocery or laundry delivery
- lawncare or pool maintenance
- part-time child care
Your support system will provide you time to focus solely on one thing vs. having to juggle everything at once. This will help you learn faster and leave you with more time for home and work.
3. Keep Your Manager Up To Date
Because OTA to OT Bridge Programs serves to further your skill set and make you more effective at your current job, it only makes sense to make your manager aware of your intention to return to school.
Once enrolled, keep your manager in the loop regarding things like upcoming exams, fieldwork requirements and other responsibilities that will take time to complete. Though school time should never interfere with work, OTA to OT programs will provide a benefit and therefore should be discussed.
A supportive manager will likely accommodate you by allowing some flexibility.
4. Make Time To Recharge
With time being your most valuable resource during an OTA to OT program, slowing down for 15 or 20 minutes might seem nearly impossible. Before getting too deep into your new routine, sit down and create a “recharge schedule” that includes at least one 15-20 minute break every day.
It is unlikely that these breaks can fall at the same time each day. That’s okay!
The goal is simply to get into the habit of taking the time. Fill it with relaxation techniques, listen to your favorite music, read a book, or just sit quietly and reflect on your accomplishments thus far.
You may wonder how such a short period of time can make a dent, but it is proven that short “mental breaks” help reduce stress and promote good time management habits.
5. Find Your Sweet Spot
With school comes studying, and the amount of time you will spend learning about new topics means you will want to find a comfortable and quiet place to read.
Some students prefer to adopt a routine or schedule that has them studying in the same peaceful location each time. Other students find that mixing things up helps avoid burnout.
Because your OTA to OT bridge programs will be a mix of self-driven learning, classroom learning, and fieldwork, students will inevitably enjoy a level of variety.
If a steady routine is more comfortable for you, but you still need to get out every so often, consider studying in libraries or local community centers.
If the outdoors helps you comprehend new topics but you need silence, consider studying with noise canceling headphones.
Finally, you may find that studying with a group is the easiest way for you to learn. If you aren’t sure what works best, give yourself time to try each study method. You will absorb more when you feel comfortable, so make an effort to find your sweet spot!
Taking full advantage of occupational therapy assistant to occupational therapist programs ensures you make the most of your time, money and effort while working towards your goal to become an OT.
Focusing on and executing strategies for success will help you enjoy the journey.
Remember our tips for success with your OTA to OT bridge program:
- Set realistic goals
- Enlist family, friends, and outside help for support
- Keep your manager up to date
- Make time to recharge
- Find your sweet spot
When you complete your master’s degree and are ready to take the NBCOT®, we recommend utilizing the preparation resources on AOTA’s website. Here you can find practice tests, exam support and study groups.
➡ What questions or concerns do you have about OTA to OT bridge programs?
Share with us in the comments below!