OTA New Graduate Vignettes
Recent graduates of occupational therapy assistant programs use their skills in a variety of work settings, with different kinds of clients. Find out more about work in the following settings.
Medical Rehabilitation Hospital - Inpatient
Schools - Elementary
Skilled Nursing Facility
Sarah Black BA, COTA/L
Graduate of Mountain State University, Beckley, West Virginia
Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, Inpatient Facility
I am responsible for the continuation of care of patients who have been evaluated by an occupational therapist. The patient caseload varies in diagnosis and includes individuals with stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and amputations, as well as medical conditions resulting from motor vehicle accidents, falls, or overall physical weakness.
Clients range from 15 to 100 years of age. An average day might consist of a maximum of eight patients, with most seen for about 90 minutes. In addition to treatment, family training, and family conferences with the interdisciplinary team and occasional Level II fieldwork students, I participate in two committees-the Stroke and the Wheelchair Track and Field Committees. I also run separate groups on scheduled days, which focus on constraint-induced therapy, safety and fall education, and assist in a feeding group.
Salaries range from $22,000 to $28,000, depending upon experience.
Outside of work, I serve as the secretary of the West Virginia Occupational Therapy Association and attend West Virginia University's OTA to MOT program, a "bridge" program leading to an entry-level master's degree in occupational therapy.
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Valerie Presley, COTA/L
Graduate of Greenville Technical College, Greer, South Carolina
Skilled Nursing Facility
I was a returning adult student, starting my education part-time at age 28 because I have two children.
I finished the occupational therapy assistant program at age 32, and I have been working for 2 years at a 39-bed facility and occasionally at larger facilities. I have treated a variety of patients with diagnoses including, but not limited to, stroke, hip replacement, dementia, quadriplegia, fractures, organic brain disorder, psychological disorders, learning disabled, deafness and/or blindness, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes.
My patients range in age from 42-100 years old. I work PRN (on call), which allows me to work a very flexible schedule of 20-30 hours per week. The average starting salary in my area for PRN work is $15 to $18 per hour, with some companies including continuing education, medical benefits, and paid time off.
A typical day for me involves addressing the goals set by the supervising occupational therapist. I try to keep a balance of routine daily skills as well as new activities, to keep the patient interested and challenged. The patients may complete exercises, manipulate buttons/zippers/snaps, make a piñata, make a collage, water plants around the facility, or perform self-care activities. During the activities, I may address a different skill that needs strengthening, eye-hand coordination, endurance, functional standing balance, depth perception, fine motor coordination, and so forth.
I enjoy my work. After treatment, we might send the patient home, to a family member's home, to an assisted living facility. In some cases, we extend their stay at the facility in order to help them become as independent as possible.Back to top
Kara Kightlinger, COTA
Graduate of Pennsylvania College of Technology, Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Franklin Elementary School, Littleton, Colorado
As an occupational therapy assistant in the special education department of an elementary school, I have a rewarding opportunity to work with students with varying disabilities, from kindergarten through fifth grade. The goal is to help these students achieve and access their grade-level curriculum, to the best of their abilities.
As part of a treatment team, I work with students diagnosed with autism, Down syndrome, developmental delay, ADD/ADHD, Angelman syndrome, and other severe disorders as well as many learning disabilities.
There is nothing more fulfilling than when a student achieves a milestone, whether it be taking their first step or writing their name, and knowing that together, you and the student have achieved something that is very meaningful to them.
For me, a typical day consists of working with all of the children on fine and gross motor skills, either individually or in small groups. We work in a multi-sensory way, so that the students feel that they are having fun.
At the same time, we are also working towards an educational goal. For example, one student may be practicing handwriting skills by forming letters in shaving cream while two other students are engaged in a bean bag toss game, working on eye-hand coordination and social skills. Every day is new and exciting in this career and I look forward to each day—the reason that I know I have found the perfect occupational match for me. The best part of being an occupational therapy assistant is that you can be as creative and inventive as you wish, as long as you know what you want, and go for it!Back to top