When Daily Tasks Become Difficult, Occupational Therapy Assistants Step in

Share this article with your network.

Don't know what you want to do?
Take our 2-minute quiz
Occupational therapy assistant CG Polirer (far left) enjoys her job because it offers her the freedom to spend time with her family.
Occupational therapy assistant CG Polirer (far left) enjoys her job because it offers her the flexibility to spend time with her family. (Credit: Leba D. Photography)

CG Polirer has worked as occupational therapy assistant at a number of locations, including assisted living facilities and rehab centers. "My patients have ranged from as young as 18 to as old as 104!" she said. Like many healthcare workers, the 35-year-old mother of two works PRN – pro re nata, a Latin term that translates to "as needed" or "as the situation arises."

How did you train to become an occupational therapy assistant?

I went to a local community college in Michigan. I had some prerequisites to complete before I could apply to the program. It was two years in the program, including internships. 

Why did you get into this line of work?

I decided to go into this field because, at the time, I was not interested in being in school for a long time. I enjoy helping people on a daily basis, and seeing them achieve their independence is rewarding. I also love the fact that my work does not come home with me. 

(Physical therapy and occupational therapy assistants are among the fastest-growing jobs in the nation.)

What does a typical day as an occupational therapy assistant look like?

I come in at about 7 a.m. and see who my patients are for that day. If I am unfamiliar with their diagnosis, I take the time to look up the information pertaining to them – including their goals for therapy. Occupational therapy focuses on our activities of daily living, so part of their therapy is the ability to get out of bed, get washed up and dressed, eat their breakfast, and so on. I usually see as many patients as possible during the morning because I find that you can see the most progress completing their daily tasks. Nursing is also making sure the patients are getting ready for therapy. So when my patient is already dressed, I will take them to the gym and work on other goals such as upper body exercising and standing balance to work on their strength and endurance. Billing documentation is usually on an iPad, so I am often documenting while my patients are completing their work. At the end of the day, I will finish up any documentation and I go home.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

The most common misconception is that I am here to help you find your next job. "Occupation" is a loose term here. I am here to assist you with your therapy and give you the necessary tools to function in your day-to-day routine. As therapists, we are focusing on making sure that whatever tasks you were completing daily before, you will still be able to accomplish when you return back home.

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

I wish I knew how often my patients would not appreciate the therapists until they had turned a corner and realized we aren’t torturing them. Oftentimes, patients will complain that this is so painful. It’s not an easy job, but it is extremely rewarding.

What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

It takes patience and a good listening ear. Patients are going through a rough time, and being a friend and their therapist is a balance. The ability to think fast while being flexible is crucial because oftentimes, what you plan to do with your patient may not come to fruition that day because of many different reasons. It’s important to respect your patient and remember where they are sitting is not an easy situation. They just want to be home. 

Is there a time when you felt your job made a real impact on someone’s life?

I will never forget the day. My patient came back to visit me at my job. He was retired, but on a daily basis he was a school crossing guard. He drove up to the facility and he got out of his car, dressed the part and holding his stop sign. It is a moment I will never forget.

Feeling overwhelmed with options?

Take the SkillPointe Quiz

It’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do. This short visual quiz will help you identify skills-based careers that best match your personality.

Young woman wearing blue jean jacket and carrying a notebook shrugs