COTA or RN: Which Career is Right for You?


If you’re trying to decide whether a career as an RN or occupational therapist is right for you, here are some words of advice: They’re similar, yet very different.

There, glad we could help with your decision-making process!

Actually, let’s take a few minutes to discuss the different career paths required for a nurse or certified occupational therapist assistant (COTA.)

For starters, it’s important to know that whichever career path you choose, you’ll be making a difference in your patients’ lives. Both roles involve direct patient care, but each contributes differently. You’ll want to have a solid understanding of what each professional role entails, as well as have a firm grip on which best aligns with your personality and career goals.

So, let’s begin!

What’s a COTA?

A COTA is an occupational therapist who has taken an extra step to get certified in their field. Specifically, they’ve registered with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and completed the necessary certification exam. The ‘C’ in COTA, refers to someone who has taken the steps to be registered/certified as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) with the national board (NBCOT). This step also makes you eligible to pursue a master’s in Occupational Therapy.

RNs and COTAs Both Improve the Patient Experience

RNs and certified COTAs implement treatment strategies that have been created by someone else. In nursing, doctors provide a diagnosis and prescribe medications and other treatments. In occupational therapy, the occupational therapist diagnoses the issue and develops an intervention plan (aka treatment plan). It’s then up to the nurse and therapist to see these treatments through and work directly with each patient.

Both Careers Are in Demand

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted high growth and high demand for both nursing and COTA professionals in the foreseeable future. The employment of registered nurses is expected to grow by 19 percent and employment of COTAs is expected to grow by 43 percent by 2022. Occupational therapy is one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States that require an associate degree.

The Degree Requirements

You can become an RN with an associate degree in nursing (ADN), however, more and more employers are looking for nurses with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Many current ADN nurses are being asked by their employers to go back to school to earn their BSN. A COTA can enter the workforce with an associate degree and is certified by the National Board of Occupational Therapy.

Neither Profession Keeps Regular Hours

Both career paths often lead to working long hours including weekends or evenings. You may end up with a 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday schedule if you find work in a school system, but it’s more likely that you’ll end up in a hospital or homecare setting where you could be needed at all hours.

At Focus Staff we offer the personalized career guidance you need to pursue a career in nursing, occupational therapy, and other medical professions. We understand the ins and outs of healthcare professionals and have access to a wide variety of opportunities including traveling contract positions. To learn more, contact us today.

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