Monday 30 March 2015

Preparing for #OTalk - The Role of the Occupational Therapy Assistant

 The Role of the Occupational Therapy Assistant

Reflections and Thoughts whilst Preparing to co-host #OTalk

I'm really excited to have the opportunity to co-host #OTalk next Tuesday (7th April 2015 8pm-9pm) with @ForensicDetail. The Pre-chat blog can be found over on #OTalk blog

As you will all probably be aware if you have been reading my blog for a while or are a fellow MSc-er at Cumbria that before started the course in September I worked (and still pick up some shifts on the bank) as an Occupational Therapy Assistant in an acute adult setting, which I really enjoyed and cemented my desire to become an occupational therapist; so I do have a vested interest in the role of OTAs in different settings. 

I have been lucky to have an observation placement in another acute setting which gave me an opportunity to see how the role of OTA differed between trusts (and technically a different country); my next placement in community paediatrics highlighted a completely different role of an assistant in that setting. I have also come into contact with OTAs from different settings/wards/specialities through work and also whilst at university; so far so this has helped to expand me knowledge of the role and tasks occupational therapy assistants undertake as part of the day to day working life. 

What I have found as my understanding of the role of OTAs grows; the broader the role appears to become. It varies from setting to setting and is equally affected by the competencies of the individual but can include but not limited to: admin tasks, ADL practise, maintaining/increasing patients abilities whilst waiting for move to home/rehab, simple assessments, planning and leading treatment sessions with individuals under the OTs instruction. It is important to note the last point as OTAs aren't qualified with the theoretical knowledge of occupational therapists (Alaszweski & Meltzer, 1979 cited in Creek 2007); so input of the occupational therapists expertise is essential if occupational therapy wants to become increasingly evidence based in its practice and the client is to be given best possible experience. 

Developing in an OTA role:

I have also been thinking a lot about how an OTA can develop in their role. I was really lucky in my role as an OTA to have a supportive team who carved out time for CPD opportunities each month, to be part of a journal club that allowed me to begin to link to evidence base and also have meetings with other OTAs in the hospital to build on skills and share knowledge and experience with each other. I believe that those opportunities helped me in my decision to progress with my desire to study OT; but also helped my do my job to best of my abilities. The opportunities helped me to not only develop as an assistant but also helped me feel valued in the team as I was given the same time allocation for CPD and opportunities (journal club, and assistant groups) as the qualified OTs in the department. I also benefited from being able to share my knowledge of the department with new starts into the department such as rotational band 5s which enabled my confidence to grow in the part I played in the therapy team. 

The move from OTA to OT Student:

As I have moved to become a OT student the skills I learnt and developed in my role have been a good grounding in the profession; but I have also had to overcome a few hurdles when learning the theory behind the 'ideal' OT scenarios in practice; this has made me question the fundamentals at points and the understanding of how it should be in practice has added a sometimes unwelcome layer to my learning. This has meant that I have to be more aware of how negative aspects of practice i have experienced as an OTA can impact on my learning and also the learning of others in group learning settings so not to affect the moral of learning the theory for others. 

Also on placement it has been both a positive and a negative. Positive in the respect that my understanding of the constraints of service pressures on the role of OT, my underlying assessment, practical and observation skills and general understanding of the OT process. But also negatively in the respect (which I know is echoed by other students with an OTA background I have spoken to), sometimes educators on placement can take for granted that you know something as you have worked as an assistant; and don't always explain the roots of the things they are doing; I have also found that especially in the first couple of placements I almost wasn't sure how much I should be doing at that level but as I begin PP2 next week I think this will be much less of an issue. 

As I have mentioned before I have had the chance to meet some amazing OTAs (and OTs) whilst on my placement (and i will meet so many more as I go back out on placement), who have helped my understand the role of occupational therapy in the setting they are based in; they have also helped my learn skills in planning and leading treatment sessions and issuing and maintaining equipment which they have had expertise in. As a student I love to learn about OTAs role as well as the other MDT members because it helps me see the larger picture of how not only OT but other professions are helping the client to do what is important to them. 


I hope that the discussion will allow for a greater picture of the occupational therapy assistant role in different settings, and for me as a student; increase understanding of the role they can play educating students on placement of the practice of OT in their particular setting.

New to #OTalk:

#OTalk is a twitter discussion using the hash tag - #OTalk, every Tuesday between 8pm-9pm (UK Time). It aims to hold discussion based on occupational therapy and occupational science topics. Please check out their website for more information and how you can use these discussions as part of your CPD.

Remember to add #OTalk to your tweets if you are planning to join the chat! 

Creek, Jennifer, and Anne Lawson-Porter, eds. Contemporary issues in occupational therapy: reasoning and reflection. John Wiley & Sons, 2007.
COT (2011) ‘Become an OT Support Worker.’ Accessed 27 January 2015. Available at:

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