Pediatric Therapist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a pediatric therapist? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a pediatric therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Pediatric Therapist

The term pediatric therapist can refer to someone who is either an occupational therapist or a physical therapist who works with patients between infancy and age 18. Occupational therapists help improve or restore functions and skills, damaged by disabilities or developmental delays, that are needed for everyday activities. Physical therapists deal with mobility and pain management in the rehabilitation of patients following an accident, illness or surgery. Below are some of the pros and cons that might help you decide about pursuing a career in pediatric therapy.

Pros of Becoming a Pediatric Therapist
Relatively high salary (median annual salary of between $78,810 and $82,390 as of May 2014)*
Job security (29%-36% projected growth between 2012-2022)*
Low unemployment rate (1.5% as of 2013)**
Ranked in the top five healthcare jobs in the United States**

Cons of Becoming a Pediatric Therapist
Requires physical stamina and strength*
Requires graduate degree, which can take at least two more years of school*
Requires patience since slow progress can be frustrating*
Must be licensed, which can also take some additional time*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **U.S. News and World Report.

Career Information

Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) Job Description

A pediatric OT observes a patient's behavior. Relying on these observations, the patient's medical history and conversation with the patient and the patient's family, the OT decides on a treatment plan. Early intervention may be necessary in the case of children who have or are at risk of having developmental problems. The goal is to aid in the development or recovery of abilities needed to perform day-to-day tasks and function effectively.

OTs may design and recommend specific exercises, recommend therapeutic devices and equipment to relieve pain or help with developmental difficulties. The home and school environments should be examined with an eye toward accommodating the patient's needs. It's the responsibility of the OT to educate the patient and family about the value of the treatments and the use of equipment.

Pediatric Physical Therapist (PT) Job Description

Pediatric PTs use techniques such as massage, heat and cold treatments and therapeutic equipment to improve or restore movement. After observation, they design and implement a plan of treatment to accomplish specific motion goals. Patients may be in need of treatment because of injuries, amputations or birth conditions such as cerebral palsy. PTs monitor a patient's progress and adapt exercises or the use of devices as they deem necessary. They must also see to it that patients and their families are kept informed on what to expect during treatment and how they can deal with what comes about.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects that from 2012-2022, employment opportunities for occupational therapists and physical therapists in general will increase 29% and 36%, respectively. This is much faster than the national average for all occupations. In 2014, the BLS determined the median annual wage for occupational therapists and physical therapists to be about $78,810 and $82,390, respectively.

Education Requirements

Requirements for Pediatric Occupational Therapists

You can qualify to become an occupational therapist by earning a bachelor's degree that includes courses such as biology, physiology and anatomy and with a 2.75-3.0 GPA. Following graduation, you must earn at least a master's degree in occupational therapy from a school offering accredited programs.

These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education of the American Occupational Therapy Associate (AOTA). AOTA maintains an online directory of schools that offer master's and doctoral programs. Master's degree programs take two years to complete while doctoral programs take somewhat longer. Programs entail didactic courses and clinical fieldwork. You may have the opportunity to concentrate on the pediatric population through fieldwork, clinics and independent study.

Requirements for Pediatric Physical Therapists

In order to become a physical therapist, you must first earn a bachelor's degree. The bachelor's degree curriculum should contain courses such as biology, physiology, chemistry and anatomy. You must have maintained around a 3.0 GPA. Once you've graduated, you must complete a program in physical therapy that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). APTA maintains a directory of schools that offer accredited programs. APTA reported that while you can earn a master's degree in physical therapy in 2-3 years, more schools are opting for programs leading to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). DPT programs generally take three years to complete.

Typical courses in a physical therapist program include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, neuroscience and pharmacology. You must also complete clinical rounds, which provide you training in such areas as pediatric, orthopedic and acute care.

Licensure

Once you've completed your degree requirements, all states require you to be licensed in order to practice as an occupational or physical therapist. Though requirements may vary between states, for licensure in physical therapy, you usually have to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. The exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical therapy.

You can become licensed as an occupational therapist by taking the exam administered by the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists (NBCOT). You may be required to complete continuing education units in order to maintain you license and certification.

What Employers Are Looking for

In addition to being well versed in your discipline, you must have well-honed and flexible communication skills as a pediatric therapist. Because you'll be dealing with children and their parents, you must be sensitive to a wide range of concerns and emotions and be able to approach the individuals in a clear, compassionate and effective manner. You should be detail-oriented and have the stamina and patience to stay focused and observant throughout the application of treatments and their follow-ups. Experience in pediatric care and licensure are often requirements for employment. Below are some examples of actual employment notices posted during April 2012:

  • A Texas pediatric group is looking for a pediatric physical therapist. Applicant must have at least one year of clinical experience, hold a graduate degree and be licensed to practice physical therapy in Texas. Duties include evaluating patients, developing and implementing a treatment plan and possibly supervising the work of physical therapy assistants. Must work with other healthcare practitioners to coordinate and facilitate treatments.
  • A hospital in New Jersey is seeking an occupational therapist interested in working with children. Though clinical experience with the pediatric population is preferred, the hospital will provide on-the-job training to the right person. Applicant must have a solid work history and either hold a license to practice occupational therapy in New Jersey or is qualified to sit for a licensing exam.
  • A child study center in New York wants to hire a state-licensed occupational therapist. Applicant should hold a Master of Science and have experience in dealing with children who are developmentally challenged. Duties include evaluation, development of treatments and family counseling.
  • An Arizona human development center seeks a state-licensed physical therapist with a graduate degree. Applicants must have clinical experience in dealing with developmentally challenged children up to age five. Applicant should be used to working as a member of a transdisciplinary team focused on family-centered service with a relationship-based approach to treatment and intervention.

How Can I Stand out?

According to the BLS, one of the licensure requirements to become an occupational therapist is certification by the NBCOT. Certification is available to you if you hold a master's degree. In order to distinguish yourself from the pack, you might consider pursuing a doctorate. Schools may offer you the opportunity to complete the degree requirements on a part-time basis, through distance learning or by way of a hybrid program. This would allow you to continue working while you earn your degree.

In order to stand out in the field of physical therapy, you may want to consider becoming certified in the specialty of pediatric physical therapy. If you complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care in pediatric physical therapy or have completed a post-professional clinical residency program, you may be eligible to sit for a specialty certification examination in pediatric physical therapy. The exam is administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.

Alternative Career Paths

Recreational Therapist

A recreational therapist can deal with adults as well as children. They plan and direct recreational activities to be used in a therapeutic manner for people with physical or mental developmental difficulties or disabilities or illnesses. Using arts and crafts, sports, drama, music and dance as tools, recreational therapists seek to help people recover mobility, develop social skills, overcome depression, learn to cope with and overcome lingering disabilities or limitations and operate as independently as possible within society. With a bachelor's degree, you can qualify to sit for a certification examination administered by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

The BLS projected that employment opportunities for recreational therapists are expected to increase 17% from 2010-2020. This is about the same as the average for all occupations. In 2010, the BLS determined the mean annual wage for recreational therapists to be about $39,000.

Athletic Trainer

If your interests lie more toward injury prevention, diagnosis and treatment, you might want to consider a career as an athletic trainer. While most closely associated with adolescent sports, athletic trainers may also be called upon to work with adults, professional athletes and soldiers. The focus of a trainer's concern is the effective, safe performance of muscles and bone in the course of athletic activities. You can become an athletic trainer by earning a bachelor's or master's degree through a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education. Most states require athletic trainers to be licensed. Licensure is often earned by sitting for the certification examination administered by the Board of Certification for the athletic trainer.

The BLS projected that employment opportunities for athletic trainers will increase 30% from 2010-2020. The high figure may be due in part to an increased awareness of the likelihood of sports-related injuries and their preventability. In 2010, the BLS determined the mean annual wages for athletic trainers to be roughly $42,000.

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