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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

SJVC’s Fresno campus to offer in-demand Occupational Therapy Assistant program

July 29, 2019

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 9, 2019 regarding the SJVC Occupational Therapy Assistant program’s accreditation status.

OTA assisting patientSan Joaquin Valley College is pleased to launch an Occupational Therapy Assistant program on its Fresno campus, giving Central Valley residents easy access to training for this popular and in-demand career choice.

“I expect to have a lot of passionate candidates who have been waiting for such a program to be offered in this area to apply to our program,” says Amy Deavours, an occupational therapist and Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Director for SJVC’s Fresno campus. “And we are excited to meet that need.”

Occupational therapy assistants (OTA) have a special place in the medical and rehabilitation industry. They are employed in physical occupational, audiologist and speech therapist offices, as well as acute care hospitals, nursing care facilities, rehabilitation, mental health, and pediatric care facilities and outpatient clinics. “They provide physical strengthening support and rehabilitative movement education to people with limited abilities to better engage in activities such as their occupation, personal interests and life responsibilities that they find meaningful,” says Deavours.

OTAs work with those who have temporary or ongoing disabilities affecting movement such as arthritis, stroke, multiple sclerosis and other degenerative diseases. Accident victims may also benefit from therapy interventions provided by OTAs, as well as children and young adults with developmental disabilities, such as autism.

Many potential students are attracted to this new program because they have a long-held interest in helping others. They tend to be compassionate, intuitive individuals who can demonstrate patience in the sometimes-slow process of assisting others to reclaim their mobility, physical function and sense of relative independence.

This career choice is both professionally gratifying and valued for job security. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment for occupational therapy assistants is projected to grow 29% between 2016 and 2026¹. An aging population of baby boomers has created a peak of elder care facilities that provide housing and visiting or in-house physical therapy services, mobility training and education needs.

“I’ve gotten calls from medical facilities wanting to know when our first OTA class will graduate, because they need additional occupational therapy assistants now,” says Deavours. “They would hire someone tomorrow, if we had graduates ready to work.”

Many of these future employers will also be major contributors to students’ rigorous hands-on training, as clinical field work sites. Students rotate through various participating facilities where they get a real-world glimpse of their future work environments. “In the beginning, our students will primarily be observational, but will segue into full assisting opportunities,” says Deavours.  “Clinical sites are very willing to work with us because they have a need in their own departments for well-qualified occupational therapy personnel.”

Field work sites will include inpatient rehabilitation, skilled nursing and outpatient therapy facilities, as well as mental health and pediatric hospitals to name a few. “When designing this program, we thought it would be very important to expose students to many kinds of treatment facilities as well as segments of the population in need of their services,” says Deavours. “This not only gives them exposure to future employment choices, but also helps them on their National Board exams to draw from this experience.”

The classroom experience will give students every opportunity to perfect newfound skills and develop communication techniques that best serve their future patients and employers.

The new Occupational Therapy Assistant program will provide students with ample classroom space and well-designed laboratories that provide a full-simulation bedroom, bathroom and kitchen to allow students to practice their patient treatment functions using real-world surroundings. They will have access to such equipment as wheelchairs, walkers and splinting devices to help patients learn to function within their daily routines.

San Joaquin Valley College’s new Occupational Therapy Assistant program, which can be completed in as few as 20 months, will attract students from all walks of life. “There will be interest from those in the medical field, as well as those with non-medical backgrounds, but who just knew they wanted to be in this profession,” says Deavours.

Students with a medical background will come from several levels of experience and education.

“Many current certified nursing assistants, restorative nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses or people who work in schools as classroom aids or who assist students with disabilities, are likely candidates for this program,” Deavours confirms.

Others interested in this program will come from areas completely unrelated to the health care field.

“Those outside the profession bring a different perspective, and we like that,” says Deavours. “They can draw on other skills, their creative knowledge, or artistic or crafts experience to engage patients. The more creative a person is, the better occupational therapy assistant they are.”

SJVC anticipates being in a position to accept applications for the new Occupational Therapy Assistant program from mid-August until November 15, 2019. Those candidates who meet eligibility requirements and successfully enroll in the program will be part of the inaugural class that begins in January 2020. Graduates of this program will earn an Associate of Science degree. View or download the Occupational Therapy Assistant program application and admissions process packet.

Over the last two years, San Joaquin Valley College has focused on applying and meeting requirements for Occupational Therapy Assistant program approval. The Occupational Therapy Assistant program is in progress of seeking accreditation through 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) 652-6611, and its web address is At its meeting on July 26-28, 2019, ACOTE considered the Candidacy Application from the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program at San Joaquin Valley College-Fresno Campus, Fresno, California, and voted to GRANT CANDIDACY STATUS. As a result of this action, the institution may admit students into the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program according to the approved timeline (January 2020) and may proceed to the Preaccreditation Review step of the accreditation process.