Preparing for a Career as a Pediatric Physical Therapist

by Howard Gerber on October 26, 2017

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physical therapy pediatric certificationWhether you already work as a physical therapist or are still in school earning your degree, you might be thinking about specializing. One area of specialization to consider is working as a pediatric physical therapist. Before you take the next steps, do some research and consider these questions. 

Where Do Pediatric Physical Therapists Work?

Pediatric physical therapists work in some of the same settings as general physical therapists. They work in medical centers, rehabilitation facilities, and home health. Pediatric PTs also work in children’s hospitals and as school-based therapists. School-based physical therapy may offer a nice change of pace from working in hospitals and rehab centers.

What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist Do?

Pediatric physical therapists work with children from infancy through adolescence. They work with children to improve strength, range of motion, and endurance. PTs also help children with gait problems, delayed motor development, and balance problems.

Depending on the facility you work in, you might treat children with a wide variety of conditions. In a children’s hospital, you may work with kids who have burns, cancer, and injuries from trauma. As a school-based therapist, it’s common to treat children who have conditions, such as cerebral palsy, autism, and developmental delays.

Therapists may provide wound care, manual manipulation, and develop recreational activities. Pediatric physical therapists may also be involved in fitting and teaching children how to use prosthetics and assistive technology.

What Does It Take to Work as a Pediatric PT?

If you’re thinking about working as a pediatric physical therapist, you might wonder if you have what it takes. It may be helpful to talk with therapists who already work in pediatrics. Learning the pros and cons from someone working in the specialty may help you decide if it’s right for you.

It also helps to have the following:

  • A strong desire to help people
  • Enjoy working with children
  • Organization skills
  • The ability to work as part of a team
  • Good communications skills
  • Flexibility

How So You Specialize in Pediatrics?

At the start of 2017, to be eligible to take the physical therapy licensure exam, you must have earned a doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). Depending on your school, you may be allowed to select some of your clinical rotations. Try to get a couple of rotations working with children in pediatric facilities.

After graduating from A DPT program, you may want to consider a residency or fellowship in pediatrics.  A residency or fellowship will provide additional specialty training in pediatrics and may increase your marketability. It is also a chance to find mentors in the field, which can be helpful as a new therapist.

Another option is to become board certified in pediatrics. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers a pediatric certification for qualified therapists. Although the credential is not mandatory to work in pediatrics, it does set you apart from other candidates.

Pediatric physical therapy is not the right specialty for everyone, but it can be a great choice for some people. If you like working with children, want to make a difference and enjoy a challenge, it might be something to consider.


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