BY EMILY GUEVARA
As construction workers building the facility for Tyler Junior College’s Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center, faculty members create the programs to be housed inside.
One of several programs to be launched as part of the new facility is that for occupational therapy assistant, or OTA.
OTAs work under the direction of occupational therapists treating patients with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, according to information provided by the college.
The OTAs use every day activities as therapy to help the patients develop, recover and improve the skills used in daily living and working.
The field has its roots in mental health and was started after World War II for veterans.
Jennifer Garner, TJC’s academic fieldwork coordinator for the OTA program, said the intent was to give veterans a sense of purpose and success.
Today, though, OTs and OTAs work with people of all ages. This includes children with developmental disabilities; adolescents with mental illnesses, traumatic injuries and more; and adults with burns, arthritis, strokes, diabetes, visual impairments, cancer and other debilitating diseases.
The purpose of the field is to provide people with the tools and support they need to get their independence back.
“We are here to help people get back to doing what they want to do,” said Elizabeth Olivier, TJC’s OTA department chairwoman.
The college will launch its OTA program with 20 students this fall.
The academic program comprises 60 semester credit hours and two eight-week fieldwork experiences.
Students spend four semesters in class and the fifth semester in the workplace. To be an OTA, a person must have an associate’s degree and license.
The goal of the program is to educate a generalist, Ms. Olivier said. The graduate of this program should have the skills to walk in to and begin working under an experienced occupational therapist. From there they can develop specialties, she said.
Although the first class of students will start their training in TJC’s existing Pirtle Technology Building, they will move in to the new Rogers Nursing and Health Sciences Center once that opens.
The new building will have lecture and lab space, the latter of which includes a fully functional bathroom, bedroom and kitchen.
The OTA lab will be next to the Physical Therapy Assistant lab so there is opportunity for cross-training with those students, Ms. Olivier said.
Demand for OTAs is expected to grow in the coming decade as health needs of the aging population increase, according to TJC information.
Employment for OTAs is expected to increase by 43 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations, according to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nationwide, the median annual wage for OTAs was about $51,000 in 2010. In East Texas, the entry-level salary ranges from $41,000 to $50,000, according to TJC information.
The department will begin accepting applications on April 14 and close on May 30. Applicant interviews will take place June 7 and letters will be mailed to the applicants on June 10, according to the program website.
TJC’s OTA program will have an information session for interested students from 2 to 4 p.m. April 8 in Room 350 of the Pirtle Technology Building on the college’s main campus.