Your Guide to COTA Certifications and Specialties

Your Guide to COTA Certifications and Specialties

 The OTA designation is just the beginning; there are many different certifications and career paths available to OT assistants. Learn more about your options here. 

Whether you’ve been practicing for two years or two decades, you might be wondering where to go next with your OTA degree.

Getting a certification can be a great opportunity to stay engaged and up-to-date, become more confident and competent with a certain intervention or practice area, and demonstrate expertise.  

There are numerous certifications available. Some are easier than others to obtain, but most require taking a course and/or an exam. This is not a comprehensive list but here are some of the more common ones, along with the requirements for fulfillment, cost, time, and information about renewal.  

Disclaimer: All content provided is solely for informational purposes and are not endorsements. Also, please verify the information provided with the certifying agency, as information can change over time. 

Certifications to expand your OTA practice

Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)

For OTAs who get excited about technology, and work with complex clients (especially those with congenital or progressive disabilities), the Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) certification is a great pick. Offered by RESNA, the ATP designates clinicians that specialize in acquiring and using assistive technology to help individuals participate in ADLs, employment, and education.  

Some examples of these types of technology include augmentative and alternative communication, computer accessibility, environmental modifications, vehicle modifications, positioning, sensory aids, and seating and mobility.  

Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)

The SMS certification (also offered by RESNA) was developed to further distinguish ATPs who are highly specialized in seating, positioning, and mobility assessment, as well as funding resources, implementation of interventions, and outcome assessment and follow-up.

SMS certification is designed for the clinician who works with complex rehab clients and who knows seating, does custom mobility, and understands both electronics and progressive diseases.

  • Prerequisite: Active ATP certification
  • Requirements: 165 multiple choice question exam
  • Time: 1,000 hours in seating and mobility-related experience AND two seating and mobility activities in the past five years, such as CEU, advocacy, mentoring, publication, or leadership
  • Cost: $250 application/exam fee
  • Renewal: Every two years, $175, and documentation of related work experience and continuing education

Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)

The Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) designation is geared toward those who want to serve the unique needs of seniors. CAPS-designated OTAs modify people’s living environments by addressing the most common safety barriers, allowing seniors to safely remain in their homes as they age. The CAPS certification is offered by NAHB.  

The CAPS designation is not designed specifically for therapists or healthcare professionals (in fact, most CAPS professionals are home remodelers), but a growing number of those with the CAPS credential work in healthcare.  

If you’re considering the CAPS designation, it may be beneficial to join the Home Modification Occupational Therapy Alliance, a network that specifically supports OTs in the home modification field.

  • Time: Completion of a three-day training course
  • Cost: Course cost of $330 plus graduation fee ($218)
  • Renewal: Annual renewal fee ($83) plus 12 hours of building industry-related continuing education every three years

Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP)

You can become designated as a Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) after taking a comprehensive and intense two-day class, followed by an exam. The class is designed to provide applicants with the skills necessary to help make homes accessible, comfortable, and safe for everyone, regardless of ability.

CLIPP-certified OTAs perform comprehensive home assessments, enabling them to identify and offer solutions for home accessibility and safety. This allows individuals to remain successfully and safely in their homes.

The multi-day CLIPP training program includes all training materials and meals. Upon completion of the class, students must successfully complete an exam to be awarded the CLIPP certification. More info can be found here.

You may also wish to join the Home Modification Occupational Therapy Alliance, a network that supports OTs in the home modification field.

  • Cost: $999 (there may be scholarship funds or savings for members of trade associations; also a $50 Early Bird registration discount)
  • Time: Two-day course followed by an examination
  • Renewal: $85 per year

Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)

The Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists (ACBIS) offers a voluntary national certification program for both entry-level staff and experienced professionals working in brain injury services. ACBIS provides staff and professionals the opportunity to learn important information about brain injury, to demonstrate their learning in a written examination, and to earn a nationally recognized credential.

CBIS Certification is not restricted to any one profession or discipline. Rather, it is intended for anyone who delivers services specific to brain injury. Official ACBIS training is offered through many state chapters and through many service providers,  but training is not required to sit for the examination. Here is the exam outline.

  • Cost: $300 fee
  • Time: 500 hours of direct contact with individuals with brain injury
  • Requirements: Pass exam
  • Renewal: Annual application and $60 fee, plus completion of 10 hours of continuing education

Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)

In collaboration with the National Stroke Association, OTAs can become preeminent stroke clinicians through this in-person, hands-on training that will arm them with the knowledge and tools to excel in the rehab setting. This certification was designed for, and is offered exclusively to, occupational and physical therapists and assistants.

Physical Agent Modalities (CPAM)

Some states require credentialing beyond your basic license to use physical agent modalities (PAMs), and each state has unique regulations, so please make sure and check your state’s board for guidance. There are several organizations that offer certification courses, but the time and cost vary. This info is about a certification from PAMPCA:

  • Time: Two-day workshop and a 20-hour self-study portion (recommend starting no later than one month before attending the workshop)
  • Cost: $595 for all materials, exam, and workshop
  • Certification Requirements: Two-hour exam on didactic and workshop materials. Additionally, you must demonstrate competency of PAMs usage via supervised and documented treatments by an OT/OTA with CPAM certification.
  • Renewal: No expiration

Lee Silverman Voice Training - Big (LSVT)

Don’t be thrown off by the name - LSVT BIG is a movement-based treatment protocol for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. Certification workshops are programs to train therapists in its “intensive whole body amplitude-based training protocol.”

LSVT BIG is now offering an online certification course, but not all states approve the online certification. Please check here to verify your state’s approval status.

  • Time: Live course - Two pre-workshop readings and a two-day, in-person workshop. Online course - 40-module online curriculum (~16 hours to complete)
  • Requirements: Completion of curriculum as above, successful passing of exam (85%)
  • Cost: $580 for either live or online
  • Renewal: LSVT BIG Certification Renewal Course every two years (online two hour course, $50). No CEU requirement.

Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT and CLT-LANA)

The lymphatic system is often misunderstood, and lymphedema is a frequently under-diagnosed and under-treated condition that can be quite disfiguring. However, OTAs can be highly valuable resources in the management of lymphedema.

There are multiple organizations that offer certification in management of lymphedema (CLT). The North American Lymphedema Education Association (NALEA) is an alliance of the four CLT schools responsible for training the majority of CLT therapists, and NALEA has defined the core curricula for the certification based on international standards. These four schools are: Norton, Klose, Vodder, and ACOLS. Other schools outside NALEA can and do also offer the 135-hour training course.  

  • Requirements: Multiple choice, written, and practical exam
  • Cost: $3100 - $3900 varying with course provider
  • Time: 135-hour training (90 hours of classroom instruction and 45 hour home study)
  • Renewal: Every five years

Voluntary secondary certification by the Lymphology Association of North American (LANA) has been developed to support advanced standards of training and education based on sound scientific theories and treatment approaches to improve the quality of treatment.  

  • Requirements: Completion of CLT instructional course, active CLT, pass 120-multiple choice question exam
  • Cost: $430 exam fee
  • Renewal: Six years requiring either 24 hours of continued education or retaking the certification exam, as well as $200 fee

Certified Health Coach (CHC)

Developed by clinicians for clinicians, the CHC certification builds upon the skills, knowledge, and experience you already have as an OTA, such as management of health conditions and patient communication styles.

This is a self-study course that includes an audio CD, video clips, articles, and webinars, and the course prepares you for taking the online certification exam. The goal of earning a CHC is to learn the skills to increase patient engagement and goal/health achievement.

  • Requirements: Current NSHC membership
  • Time: 70+ hours of self-study and practice
  • Cost: $485 for material and exam
  • Renewal: Re-examination required every five years at a cost of $445

Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP)

If you love that colorful tape, a CKTP certification is a great way to incorporate kinesiology taping into your practice with full confidence. Kinesio University offers this certification, but there is a conflict in the requirements regarding the eligibility of OTAs.

Pursue this based on your state’s regulations, and consider speaking with the certification company to get clarification.  

AOTA-sponsored certifications

Specialty Certifications from AOTA demonstrate that you have advanced knowledge, skills, and abilities beyond typical competence. Read “Mapping the Path to Board and Specialty Certification” for detailed steps of the process.  

Applications are accepted each year in June and December, with the next deadline on June 13, 2018. AOTA Speciality Certifications are distinct from AOTA Board Certifications, which are currently not available to OTAs. AOTA Speciality Certifications are offered in the following areas:

Requirements for certification include:

  • Prerequisite: An extensive application submitted for peer review, which must include a reflective portfolio addressing specific criteria
  • Time: 2,000 hours work experience AND 600 hours delivering OTA services in the certification area in the past five years
  • Cost: $375 application fee
  • Renewal: Every five years

What if my supervising therapist does not have the same certification?

This is a question that has come up before, and it’s a really good question. Unfortunately, there aren’t any good answers that offer much clarity on the issue. We encourage you to get in contact with your state licensing board for further guidance. And if you have any insights, please share them in the comments section for us!  Hopefully, we can crowdsource some answers!

What does it take to bridge to from an OTA to an OT degree?

As you can see, there are many ways to advance your practice and demonstrate advanced competencies.

If you seek greater autonomy, or want to go into teaching, consider becoming an OTR. OTA to OT bridge programs are designed for the working professional, and can offer a combination of distance learning and on-site classes.

Some bridge programs allow transfer of previous course credits, fieldwork, and work experience towards the program requirements to help lower your time and financial burden.

Another variation in programs is whether they require a bachelor’s degree. Some do, while others only require students take additional courses as prerequisites.

Bridge programs typically can be completed in two to three years, and can cost around $80,000.

This website provides a thorough breakdown of the transition from OTA to OTR, including the pros and cons, the financials, and additional links. Here is the list of AOTA-accredited programs for OTAs seeking OT degrees, sorted by state.

Here is one example of a bridge program based in Massachusetts (Bay Path University). It offers a blend of online coursework and on-site participation every other weekend.  

Track 1:

  • Prerequisites: An associate’s degree in OTA, one year of full-time OTA work experience, current OTA license
  • Time: 3 years (99 credits); the first two semesters consist of undergraduate classes that will prepare you for the master’s degree.  
  • Cost: $79,695

Track 2:

  • Prerequisites: An associate’s degree in OTA, a bachelor’s degree in any field, one year of full-time OTA work experience, current OTA license, completion of certain prerequisite undergraduate level courses with a B- or better
  • Time: 2 years (68 credits)
  • Cost: $65,280

Conclusion

The OTA designation is just the beginning; there are many different certifications and career paths available to OT assistants.

From home modification to seating and mobility, an OTA can choose from many specialty routes. And if you’d like to take a more traditional route, AOTA-sponsored certifications and OTR bridge programs provide pathways to advance your skills.

Whatever you decide to pursue, there are endless possibilities for staying satisfied and engaged as an OTA!

OT Productivity Hacks from a Home Health Therapist

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