6 Personality Traits of Highly Effective OTAs

Staff Writer
Apr 27, 2022

Being an occupational therapy assistant is a rewarding and important career. As an OTA, you get to make a real difference in the lives of real people, and what could be better than that?

If you’re interested in becoming an OTA but aren’t sure if your personality aligns well with the occupation, check out these six traits that make the best OTAs what they are. After all, a good OTA can help people, but a great OTA can change a life.

1. Patience

People don’t go to occupational therapy for fun. If you’re an OTA working with a patient, it’s because they need you to help them improve function so they can participate in their activities of daily living again after an injury or illness. Many of your patients will be frustrated or even angry that they need to rely on someone else to help them regain the skills they used to be able to handle intuitively. Being patient with the people you are working with is, therefore, critical.

2. Compassion

This dovetails cleanly with the above trait: As an OTA, you must understand what people are going through. Realize that sometimes sympathy and kindness are just as crucial to your patients’ mental health and recovery as exercises are to their physical health and recovery.

Related Resource: 5 Volunteer Ideas for Aspiring Occupational Therapy Assistants

3. Competence

Effective OTAs need to know what they’re doing, period. Your patients need to have confidence in you and your abilities, and scrambling around to find the right piece of equipment seriously undermines that. If necessary, you need to be able to organize your patients’ schedules as well as your own. You’re there to make your patients’ lives better, and having someone to find a way to help them be independent with their schedule or when they need to refill their medicine is a weight off their shoulders.

4. Communication

To be a good OTA, you don’t just need to know how to explain exercises, walk patients through recovery plans, and clarify medical terminology — though you do need to be able to do it — you need to be able to listen. When a patient tells you about struggles they’ve been having, especially if they don’t know the cause, you need to be attentive and help them zero in on the root problem so you (and your OT) can begin addressing it. As the person who will be directly working with patients most often, you are usually the intermediary between the client and the OT, so make sure you’re communicating well with both!

Related Resource: Why Occupational Therapy Assisting

5. Creativity

There’s not always just a checklist of items that you can go down to help your patients. If being an OTA were as simple as following a flowchart, anyone could do it! While the OT is usually in charge of treatment plans, the OTA is the one who implements them. No OT wants an OTA who checks back with them on every detail, so when you encounter an issue that might need immediate attention, you need to be able to first solve the problem on your own. Afterwards, carefully catalog details in the Daily Notes and then work out a plan with your OT on how to best proceed.

Of course you need to implement the plan of care created by the OT, but sometimes a problem will fall solely on your shoulders. Creativity helps solve these problems and also benefits OTAs helping patients with their mental health. A creative OTA can help patients deal with the often-grueling drudgery of recovery in unique and meaningful ways.

6. Determination

Sometimes, being an OTA isn’t going to be pleasant. You’ll have to help people with difficult situations that can be taxing both physically and mentally, and you’ll come home exhausted and drained. Even the best OTAs feel this way sometimes! The mark of a great OTA isn’t that they never get tired or weary; it’s that they keep pushing through even when they do.

Know that you’re making your patients’ lives better. Be committed to, and passionate about, helping them, and keep pushing through it, even when it’s tough.

Related Resource: 10 Reasons Occupational Therapy Assistants Love Their Work

For more information about Joyce’s OTA program, check out our free eBook: 7 Fast facts about becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant. What are some of the other qualities that distinguish the good OTAs and the great OTAs? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!


The occupational therapy assistant program has been granted programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD 20814-3449. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its Web address iswww.acoteonline.org.

Graduates of our accredited OTA program will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapy assistant administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). In addition, most states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.


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