occupational therapy aide

Occupational Therapy Aide vs. Rehab Aide: What’s the Difference?

Have you heard rehab-related job titles – such as occupational therapy aide, rehab aide, occupational therapy assistant, and occupational therapist – and feel unclear on the differences?

Or perhaps you have heard that securing a job as an OT aide or rehab aide is a good way to gain invaluable experience before applying to OT school, and you want to find out more about it. If so, this article will highlight the following: 

  • What occupational therapy and rehab aides are
  • What job tasks are part of their role
  • What work environments do they work in
  • What training do they need
  • What characteristics are ideal to have
  • Why it is a beneficial job to have if you plan to become an occupational therapist
  • What you can do to prepare yourself to become an OT or rehab aide
  • What about becoming a nurse’s aide/assistant instead?

What is an Occupational Therapy Aide?

An occupational therapy aide provides administrative and clerical support to an occupational therapist or occupational therapy assistant. Occupational therapy aides help:

  • Set up the environment and equipment needed for the treatment session.
  • Mobilize the patient to where they need to go.
  • Order and restock supplies.
  • Clean up the treatment therapy area. 
  • Assisting the occupational therapist within the appointment.
  • Educating patients on assistive devices and equipment.
  • Sterilize medical equipment and treatment areas to follow infection control procedures.
  • Creating resource handbooks for families to take home.
  • Creating home exercise programs.

On the administrative side, they can assist with:

  • Booking the patient’s appointments.
  • Answering the phone.
  • Help fill out insurance reports.
  • Provide customer assistance.
  • Helping patients with their billing issues.
  • Participate in certain OT meetings.

Being an OT aide differs from occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants, as they do not provide direct patient care on their own. However, they do provide support to those who directly treat patients, and they can help facilitate the therapy session. 

What is a Rehab Aide?

occupational therapy aide

A rehab aide has more or less the same duties as an occupational therapy aide, but they do not work exclusively alongside occupational therapists or OT assistants.

They still assist with supporting treatment sessions but are available to assist both occupational therapists and physical therapists, as well as speech therapists as needed. They may also help with administrative or side tasks that help the whole therapy team flow.

How do they differ from occupational therapy assistants or occupational therapists?

OTs and OTAs can provide direct patient care, as opposed to OT aides and rehab aides who can’t. It can get a bit confusing, so let me highlight further differences between OTs and OTAs:

  • Occupational therapists: They have a Master’s or Doctorate degree, they assess patients and design intervention for them.
  • Occupational therapy assistants: They have an Associate’s degree, their work is similar in many ways to that of an OT, but they receive supervision from OTs and they carry out the intervention plan based on the OT’s assessment of the patient.  

What is the usual work environment for OT and rehab aides?

Both OT aides and rehab aides typically work in these following settings alongside therapists:

  • Hospitals
  • Skilled nursing care facilities
  • Occupational therapy offices
  • Outpatient rehabilitation clinics
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Assisted living facilities

How can you become an Occupational Therapy Aide or Rehab Aide?

For both job positions,

  • No official training is needed before applying.
  • A high school degree is preferred, but you can still do these jobs in high school.
  • Any previous health care experience is advantageous, such as basic life support/CPR certifications.
  • You will receive training on the job, which may last days or weeks. 
  • You do not need to be licensed or registered.

What characteristics do I need to be an Occupational Therapy Aide or Rehab Aide?

  • Good physical mobility and stamina. The majority of the day is often spent standing, and you may be getting into different positions to assist the occupational therapist and patients. Many describe it as hard work, but very rewarding. 
  • Basic computer skills are needed to assist with patient bookings and other administrative tasks.
  • Great interpersonal skills or customer service skills to be able to build therapeutic relationships with the patients. 
  • Patience, compassion, and empathy.

3 facts about Occupational Therapy Aides:

  1. The employment outlook is good, as it is projected to grow 25% from 2021 to 2031. This percentage is much higher than the average job (1).
  2. The median wage in May 2021 was $33,560 (1).
  3. Working hours vary based on which setting you work in, but may include evening or weekend work. 

Is working as either type of Aide helpful before OT school?

YES! Many students in their undergraduate years would like to work as either occupational therapy aides or rehab aides before applying to OT school. Working in either position is going to be great to have on your resume when applying to OT schools, as it shows you have experience directly related to the job.

Furthermore, some occupational therapy students look for side jobs while still in OT school in order to pay off their student loans. It is appealing to many to find a job where they will gain experience that will lend well to their future. 

Working as an occupational therapy or rehab aide is a great way to gain several skills needed to become an occupational therapist, such as:

  • Gaining knowledge on a variety of medical conditions and how they present.
  • Your physical handling skills in transfers and helping patients to mobilize.
  • Beginning to understand what activities can be used in therapy sessions and how to set them up.
  • Familiarizing yourself with a variety of equipment and assistive devices and how to use them.
  • Developing good interpersonal skills: active listening, how to converse with patients, and how to support them in their journey of recovery.
  • Understanding the booking systems used to book patients, as well as knowledge on billing, insurance reports and handling clients on the phone or family members in real life. 

What can I do to prepare for a job as an Occupational Therapy Aide or Rehab Aide?

  1. Consider getting your basic life support/CPR certification.
  2. Familiarize yourself with some medical terminology.
  3. Do some research on your place of employment. What age group is it, and what conditions will you be working with? Then Google the different conditions so that you feel more prepared.
  4. Other than that, arrive fresh and ready to learn because you will receive a lot of on- the-job training. 

What about working as a Nurse’s Aide/CNA instead?

If you’re wanting to become an occupational therapist working in a hospital or rehab setting, you might also consider working as a nurse’s aide (also known as a nurse’s assistant, CNA or patient care technician) if there aren’t any available OT aide or rehab aide jobs available. I (Sarah) worked as a nurse’s aide at an acute rehab hospital for over three years before starting OT school, and I also recommend this path for aspiring OTs.

I personally learned so much about patient handling and transfers as well as basic medical knowledge like taking vital signs, monitoring blood sugar, wound care, ect., as well as spending a LOT of time assisting my patients with their ADLs. This helped me build a foundation of knowledge that not only looked great on my OT school application but gave me a leg up skills-wise when I was in OT school and fieldwork.

While you will also build a great foundation of skills as a rehab aide, don’t discount working alongside nursing, especially in a rehab setting, if that option is also available to you.


To wrap up, becoming an occupational therapy aide or rehab aide (or even a nurse’s aide) is a great way to simultaneously earn money and gain extremely beneficial knowledge and experience that will help you throughout your future career as an occupational therapist.

Working as either type of aide has both a clinical element, involving assisting clinicians with their therapy, as well as supporting them from an administrative side. No official training needs to be done in advance, and it has a good employment outlook!

Tell us: Have you worked as an OT or rehab aide? Let us know your thoughts about your experience or if you have any helpful tips for pre-OTs thinking about taking this path. We hope this article helped give you some added insight into this path, and wish you the best of luck with your search for jobs as an occupational therapy aide or rehab aide. 


Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, BLS: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm

This article was co-written by Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L and Alexia Stavrou, BScOT.

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