Are you seeking new COTA career opportunities? The Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant field offers a wide range of options to fit nearly every passion and lifestyle.
The ‘C’ in COTA, refers to someone who has taken the steps to be registered/certified as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) with the national board (NBCOT).
With COTA health careers ranking #1 in Best Health Care Support Jobs according to U.S. News Rankings and as one of the Top Allied Health Careers with the Ultimate Job Security, it is no surprise there are plenty of COTA career opportunities out there.
So what is the best career path for a COTA? We all seek a long-lasting and fulfilling career with excellent growth opportunities. Having a complete understanding your options can help put you on a path to success.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of COTA career paths to consider.
Common Types of COTA Career Opportunities
Before you can choose the best career path for a COTA, you need to understand the different paths available. Below is a list of the many fields in which a COTA can excel:
1. Hospitals or Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs
Working as a COTA hospital employee means supporting patients either within the hospital setting or at their outpatient rehabilitation programs. The types of illnesses and injuries the patients are dealing with are highly varied.
The hospital career path is fast-paced and working in a hospital comes with long shifts.
Keep in mind that hospital jobs can offer more stability than other COTA health careers due to the regular hours and long shifts.
Working in a hospital may be a good fit if you enjoy:
- Being “on-the-go”
- Working with large teams
2. Schools and School Districts
As more services are being offered for students with disabilities, COTAs are being utilized in schools and school districts throughout the country.
COTAs bring an important skillset to these school settings. They are familiar with three key things that every child with a disability must face:
- Emotional effects
- Social effects
- Physiological effects
Consider how a deep understanding of the effects felt by those with disabilities prepares you for a career with children in schools. Students diagnosed with autism, Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities, as well as students facing physical limitations, benefit greatly from interacting with a COTA.
Often included on the special services team, COTAs help students reach their full potential by collaborating with:
- School psychologists
- Social workers
COTA career opportunities in a school or school system provide a medium to high level of stability as the position is often full-time. In some cases, the COTA will serve multiple schools on an as-needed basis.
3. Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes
Both skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes provide a stable career path for COTAs.
A skilled nursing facility is defined as a healthcare facility that provides ongoing medical care and therapy. These facilities serve patients in a variety of demographics with diverse diagnoses.
A nursing home provides ongoing care for the elderly. Like skilled nursing facilities, their goal is to help residents practice the skills necessary to function in daily life.
In both cases, COTAs customize treatment plans to each individual. It is common to help residents excel in self-care skills like personal hygiene, feeding, and dressing.
COTAs work with OTs and other staff to:
- Modify the person’s environment for ultimate independence
- Facilitate skill-building and participation in the center’s activities
- Obtain equipment to assist with these activities
4. Home Health Care
Home health care jobs for COTAs can be supportive administrative roles within an agency. Responsibilities can include working with the OT to:
- Improve efficiency among staff
- Implement new administrative requirements
- Optimize outcomes for patients
Occupational therapy establishes the initial eligibility for home health. According to AOTA, “Occupational therapists can conduct the initial assessment visit and the start of care comprehensive assessment on therapy-only patients for whom occupational therapy ‘establishes eligibility’”.
The administrative home health care career path offers stability though the job opportunities are less common.
Additionally, there is a need for home health care support where COTAs work directly with patients in their residences. Depending on the injury or diagnosis, responsibilities will vary widely from patient to patient.
The demand for COTAs working in patients’ homes is on the rise although the pay is less attractive than other fields and starts around $41,000 per year.
Other Types of COTA Health Careers
Below are a series of COTA health careers that provide a unique way to make the most of your certification.
5. Business Ergonomics
Ergonomics is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely”.
COTA career opportunities relating to ergonomics often come in the form of analysis and design. Depending on the type of job, working in this niche can range from very stable to consultant work. This COTA career path will take you to:
- Office buildings
- And potentially everywhere else business is conducted
Ergonomic work environments are designed to maximize employees’ strengths and productivity while minimizing potential limitations.
The overall goal is to utilize COTA skills to design environments that promote safety and comfort while preventing injury.
How does a COTA support these objectives? The main ways are:
- Analyzing job functions and determining candidate’s ability to perform
- Identifying hazards, especially in physically demanding work environments
- Recommend modifications to any equipment, furniture and/or flow of the environment
- Provide injury prevention and stress management education
- Recommend ways to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act
6. In-Home Environmental Modification
Much like ergonomics in the workplace, an in-home environmental modification is the creation of a safe and accessible environment.
COTAs have an opportunity to obtain a Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification, which is a great way to make your occupational therapist resume stand out. This advances their ability to “fit” an environment to a person, with a focus on maximizing independence and enjoyment in the home.
Skills like the ability to modify, adapt and change are high on the list for a COTA career path in an environmental modification. This field is more important than ever as the desire to stay at home vs. move to assisted living grows among older adults.
In most cases, in-home environmental modification work will be as-needed, making the COTA somewhat of a consultant. While this is not the most stable of all the COTA career opportunities, there are many pros, such as:
- The flexibility to make your own schedule
Working with a staffing agency ensures your work is steady while still offering you desired flexibility.
- Travel opportunities
Work within your immediate community or accept jobs throughout the state and country.
- Patient advocacy
Work to educate the patient, their family and potentially their providers on why some accommodations are necessary.
- Community networking
Make valuable connections in your community as you work to connect patients with service providers such as architects, contractors and interior designers.
7. Community Mobility
Mobility is the cornerstone of a COTA’s career. A field that may be overlooked when describing COTA career opportunities is Community Mobility.
Specifically, there is a specialty practice of driving and mobility with the occupational therapy field. This field includes the Specialty Certification in Driving and Community Mobility or SCDCM.
According to the American Occupation Therapy Association, “SCDCM focuses on practitioners enabling a client to be mobile in his or her community environment, whether that is via driving, public transportation, walking, school bus, etc.”
The SCDCM trains COTAs to work in a variety of areas throughout the community such as:
Driving or riding in cars
- Teaching the use of adaptive equipment
- Determining if a patient is fit to drive
Providing drive-specific rehabilitation services
- Advocating for the patient legally regarding court decisions about continuing to drive
- Teaching teens with disabilities to drive
Public transit options
- Training someone in a method of transportation he/she is not familiar
- Consulting with transit companies, city officials or policymakers to advocate for mobility-related issues
- Facilitating traffic safety programs geared toward those with disabilities
- Working with the city to ensure ADA compliance via curb-cuts, textured ramps, etc.
- Providing patient guidance on best routes and times of day
As you can see from the types of COTA career opportunities outlined above, there is a COTA health careers path for every individual with a passion for Occupational Therapy.
Choosing the Best Career Path for COTA
AOTA’s former president, Penelope A. Moyers Cleveland, describes the goal of a certified occupational therapy assistant as “helping people overcome whatever barrier they have.”
As the population grows, so do the kinds of barriers patients’ face. It is clear that these barriers come in a wider variety of shapes, sizes and settings.
Following the right COTA career path comes down to determining the “barrier” that most intrigues you.
Consider asking yourself a series of questions to narrow down your areas of interest:
- What drew me to occupational therapy?
- When do I feel most helpful and/or productive in my work? What exactly am I doing when I feel that way?
- Do I enjoy a regular schedule with strict hours or can I trade stability for flexibility?
- Do I enjoy working with patients or in an administrative role?
- Is traveling for work something that intrigues me?
Next, take a look at the top paying states for the COTA profession.
Deciding on the right COTA career opportunity for you comes down to two things:
- Understanding the variety of job choices you have
- Taking the time to find out what motivates you to work hard each day
Should you decide that the right career path includes continuing education with the goal to become a COTA, consider OTA to OT bridge programs for streamlined success.
How did you decide the right COTA career path for you?
Share with us in the comments below!