The Pros and Cons of Being a Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Pediatric occupational therapists specialize in the treatment of infants, children and adolescents who are developmentally disabled or who are recovering from injury. Check out some of the pros and cons to working as a pediatric occupational therapist below.
|Pros of a Pediatric Occupational Therapy Career|
|Excellent job outlook (29% growth rate expected from 2012-2022)*|
|Pays well compared to occupations with similar duties (averaged $80,000 per year as of May 2014)*|
|Variety of work settings (locations include hospitals, clinics, schools and in-home)*|
|Work schedule can be flexible (may get holidays and summers off with school positions, work around patient schedules)*|
|Cons of a Pediatric Occupational Therapy Career|
|Educational requirements (master's degree is preferred for most positions)*|
|Licensure requirements (must be licensed to practice, and license has to be renewed)*|
|Physical demands (work on your feet all day, must sometimes lift patients or equipment)*|
|Travel requirements (many work in several locations and must travel to jobs)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Job Description and Duties
Pediatric occupational therapists focus their efforts on helping children to become more independent at home, at school and in society. In a hospital or therapy clinic setting, they may evaluate children who have been injured in a fall or accident to determine the proper regimen for treatment. They work with these children to help them regain their mobility by leading them through various therapeutic exercises. They then work with families to set goals and decide on a course of action, including how to perform exercises and activities, how to make the home and school environments more accommodating and how to use any necessary equipment.
Sometimes the children they assist may have permanent disabilities, like cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, or developmental and learning disorders like autism or AD/HD. In these cases, pediatric occupational therapists often work with children in their homes or at school assisting them with everything from simple tasks to interacting with other children in their classes and activities.
Job Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted stronger-than-average job prospects in the field of occupational therapy, with 29% employment growth expected between 2012 and 2022. While many of these opportunities will be for those who work with older adults due to an increase in the senior population, the BLS also reported better job prospects for those who choose a specialty, such as pediatrics.
According to PayScale.com in 2015, pediatric occupational therapists earned a median wage of $35 per hour. The BLS listed an average yearly salary of about $80,000 as of May 2014 for all occupational therapists. Those who worked in scientific research and development services earned the most - about $115,000 per year, on average.
What are the Requirements?
Education and Training
Entry-level registered occupational therapist positions typically require a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program. If you already have a bachelor's degree, some master's-level programs are available part time, so you can work full time while earning your degree. To save time and money, you may want to consider a 5-year program that combines a bachelor's and a master's degree. Occupational therapy degree programs require students to log a certain number of hours of experience in the field, and some choose to begin their careers as certified occupational therapy assistants.
All but a few states require occupational therapists to be licensed in order to practice. While states have similar processes for obtaining a license, you still may want to check with your state's regulatory board. Typical requirements for state licensure are a degree from an accredited occupational therapy program, completion of fieldwork, a passing score on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam and application for a license from the state in which you wish to practice.
Some states allow occupational therapists to obtain temporary licenses to practice prior to taking or receiving a score on the exam. When you pass the NBCOT exam, you'll be considered a registered occupational therapist (OTR). Certification is valid for three years, after which you must renew it by completing continuing education requirements.
What Are Employers Looking For?
In addition to the right educational credentials and a state license to practice occupational therapy, employers may look for candidates with experience in pediatrics and/or in a certain area like autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In some cases, employers provide training and mentorship opportunities for new graduates. The qualities employers look for include good communication, interpersonal and organizational skills as well as compassion and creativity. The following postings are from employers seeking pediatric occupational therapists in May 2012:
- A children's therapy center in New York, NY, is seeking a pediatric occupational therapist to evaluate and treat children with developmental disorders at its Manhattan site. The ideal candidate must have a master's degree in occupational therapy, a New York State license and experience working with developmentally delayed children.
- A health system in Abilene, TX, is looking to hire a pediatric occupational therapist with a bachelor's degree, 1-2 years of experience and a license or temporary license to practice in the state of Texas. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification is required..
- A school near San Francisco, CA, that serves children and adults ages 5-22 with ASD is looking for an occupational therapist, or possibly a certified occupational therapy assistant. Requirements include a degree from an accredited program, a California occupational therapy license and experience working with ASD populations.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
As a practicing occupational therapist, it is important to renew and maintain your certification as an OTR as well as your state license; however, another way to get an edge in the field is to become a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). AOTA members receive access to career and networking resources and continuing education opportunities. Moreover, you can go a step further and become board or specialty certified by the AOTA. Board certification is available in pediatrics, and, in 2013, the AOTA plans to offer a specialty certification in school systems.
Other Careers to Consider
After reading about pediatric occupational therapists, perhaps you're more interested in a hands-on job working with all age groups. In that case, you may want to train to become a physical therapist. Physical therapists help patients who've been injured. Additionally, they help people learn to cope with chronic conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or cerebral palsy. Although you'll rely on some of the same skills occupational therapists use, you'll spend most of your time helping patients to correct dysfunctional movements to relieve their physical pain. This is done using treatment modalities such as stretching and exercises as well as special equipment. Physical therapists typically earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. They must be licensed and must complete a residency, which can last up to three years. As of May 2011, the average annual salary for a physical therapist was about $80,000, according to the BLS, and 39% employment growth was expected from 2010-2020.
If the thought of helping children or adults with difficulty communicating appeals to you, you could pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist. Also called speech therapists, these professionals diagnose communication problems and treat patients by helping them to vocalize, read and write, and/or develop the muscles they need to swallow. Speech-language pathologists must be licensed, and licensure typically requires a master's degree and clinical experience. For speech-language pathologists, the BLS reported an average salary of $72,000 per year and a better-than-average job growth rate of 23% over 2010-2020.