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How to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist

What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist Do?

pediatric physical therapist and patient doing stair exercise

Pediatric physical therapists know the profound joy of helping children and their families achieve greater happiness under challenging circumstances. Ever since their field of medicine was born during the polio epidemic of the 1920s, these therapists have relied upon an impressive array of techniques to treat musculoskeletal problems and improve the mobility of children facing numerous health conditions.

Health conditions that pediatric physical therapists address include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Chronic pain
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Cancer
  • Scoliosis
  • Developmental delays and movement disorders resulting from premature birth

A physical therapist (PT) interviews children and their families and uses physical examinations to diagnose the source of the child’s movement difficulties. From there, the therapist guides and individualizes a treatment regimen. PTs work to improve children’s motor development, strength, range of motion, endurance, balance, coordination, gait difficulties, heart and lung endurance, and delayed motor development.

Having broadened their patient population significantly through the decades, pediatric physical therapists successfully treat patients using an extensive set of skills and techniques that include:

  • Manual manipulation and other physical therapy techniques
  • Breathing training and motor learning
  • Developmental, recreational and play “therapy”
  • Adaptation of daily care activities to a child’s special needs
  • Designing, fitting and using assistive technology, orthotics and prosthetics
  • Burn and wound care

Every child responds best to a unique, carefully crafted treatment plan, which the therapist creates. Pediatric PTs also teach children and their families about safety and home exercises, since improving physical function often requires daily practice. Providing expert consultation to school and daycare is often the therapist’s responsibility as well. These professionals support the family and child by coordinating care with other health care professionals and providing advocacy and social assistance when necessary.

Therapists find motivation, diverse challenges and great reward as they work to strengthen and promote a child’s independence and integration at home, in school and in the broader community.

Workplace Details

Pediatric physical therapists work in neonatal intensive care units, schools, outpatient treatment centers, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, or directly in the child’s home. They also work in international development, and in disaster settings where they may treat children who have lost limbs due to landmines or war-related trauma. Pediatric PTs usually have a deep desire and a natural aptitude for working with special needs children and their families.

Depending on the setting, work hours vary. Therapists who work in hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation facilities, and similar settings often enjoy the option to work full or part time. Those working in schools find their schedules influenced by school hours. Therapists performing in-home care often must adjust their schedules to provide services to children during hours when they are home, making evening or weekend visits if necessary.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$95350
New York
$85730
Texas
$95240
Florida
$86520
Illinois
$90370

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$86,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$53,940$86,100$119,990
Huntsville$73,420$98,760$119,410

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$96,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $67,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $148,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$67,610$98,400$160,560
Fairbanks$68,820$90,920$122,200

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$83,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 290

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$47,570$83,930$119,060
Tuscon$56,500$84,540$103,310

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$76,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$42,600$80,350$113,650
Fort Smith$38,630$86,940$138,030

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$94,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,040

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$61,600$91,790$127,690
San Francisco Bay$76,340$102,010$129,170
San Diego$66,080$90,630$127,380
Sacramento$72,210$99,460$125,500

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$74,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $102,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 46%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$53,670$74,410$100,030
Colorado Springs$58,640$74,390$119,850

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$85,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$57,950$83,310$108,310
Bridgeport$58,010$90,400$130,750
New Haven$62,280$84,440$112,460

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$81,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $63,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $111,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$63,140$83,540$117,870
Dover$66,540$84,320$111,950

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$82,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$61,040$88,340$125,170

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$83,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 730

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$52,260$80,280$111,120
Orlando$62,700$85,460$124,770
Tampa$45,730$81,850$99,090
Jacksonville$65,110$86,220$130,850

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$81,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $63,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $113,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 40%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$65,510$79,790$105,210
Augusta$49,390$81,780$117,430

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$84,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $61,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$63,990$84,210$98,580

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$78,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 590

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$42,370$71,700$99,380
Idaho Falls$60,420$80,640$105,670

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$86,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 520

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$53,030$87,510$121,850
Rockford$37,850$79,850$149,780

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$83,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 260

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$61,800$84,810$111,590
South Bend$62,760$87,020$104,200
Fort Wayne$53,860$80,360$101,870

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$77,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 100

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$58,290$82,890$101,010
Cedar Rapids$54,730$72,950$96,050

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$79,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $105,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$56,100$75,080$99,610
Kansas City$59,100$76,690$97,630

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$83,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $105,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 47%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$51,910$82,910$102,950
Lexington$60,220$82,520$104,220

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$78,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $123,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New Orleans$44,230$76,490$103,620
Baton Rouge$50,870$83,980$130,100
Lafayette$27,630$51,090$113,060

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$74,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$56,840$74,170$99,540
Lewiston$64,030$72,810$96,420

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$89,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 330

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$50,190$86,660$118,240
Frederick$66,180$92,970$153,750

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$83,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $112,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 270

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$63,330$82,880$112,590
Worcester$59,120$78,830$100,560
Springfield$63,540$84,050$112,230

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$81,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $126,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$56,280$84,140$144,300
Grand Rapids$62,850$81,990$114,530

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$77,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$61,250$76,520$96,690
Rochester$66,980$82,920$99,560

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$89,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $124,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$65,290$90,560$119,620
Gulfport$63,750$81,530$116,540

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$76,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 220

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$54,560$74,730$100,630
Kansas City$59,100$76,690$97,630

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$73,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$54,980$73,100$95,950
Missoula$43,120$71,710$128,940

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$73,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $99,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$52,730$73,460$98,340
Lincoln$53,680$73,350$101,640

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$96,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $66,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): Over $187,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$67,970$104,510Over $187,200
Reno$64,290$86,650$113,770

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$81,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $63,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$64,360$80,780$97,800
Nashua$66,220$80,570$114,080

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$93,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $68,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $127,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 420

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$68,070$92,130$121,920
Trenton$65,040$87,630$118,940

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$87,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $121,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 70

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$51,400$88,520$119,390
Las Cruces$54,030$85,890$131,950

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$81,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $56,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 940

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$64,410$89,710$126,470
Buffalo$52,420$72,320$98,410
Rochester$55,510$77,630$101,480
Albany$52,970$69,850$94,620

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$80,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $107,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 330

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$63,340$83,850$104,710
Raleigh$55,220$75,740$99,380
Greensboro$59,560$85,070$114,930
Winston - Salem$60,750$83,540$115,250

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$73,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$55,290$73,230$93,630
Bismarck$53,340$67,340$91,450

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$81,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $59,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $113,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 30%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 420

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$59,910$84,180$106,550
Columbus$56,400$75,200$98,480
Cincinnati$59,200$84,850$119,300
Dayton$65,980$85,670$122,880

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$84,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $120,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$46,400$81,880$122,280
Tulsa$58,170$86,810$113,680

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$81,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $63,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 37%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$65,260$83,320$105,710
Salem$63,820$80,850$101,480

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$81,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $119,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 580

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$59,700$85,720$122,300
Pittsburgh$55,340$79,480$113,070
Harrisburg$63,120$88,280$121,970
Allentown$63,840$85,710$119,720

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$78,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $102,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$57,710$78,750$111,750

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$80,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $51,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $110,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$64,230$88,760$116,950
Columbia$37,410$72,340$99,920
Charleston$57,230$78,590$99,360

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$71,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $52,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$52,330$70,990$92,310
Rapid City$51,780$75,370$95,710

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$84,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $116,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 47%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 340

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$62,720$83,090$113,750
Memphis$67,030$87,150$120,090
Knoxville$56,490$80,170$99,270
Chattanooga$54,790$82,240$113,760

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$91,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $62,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $147,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 810

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$63,940$93,530$152,940
Houston$64,890$88,820$120,550
San Antonio$55,070$86,130$126,560
Austin$45,420$86,030$165,480

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$79,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $114,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$29,320$77,340$104,350
Ogden$59,530$88,090$148,430

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$74,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $54,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$56,100$75,040$98,830

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$84,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $58,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$53,190$82,510$108,460
Richmond$55,370$81,350$114,760

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$85,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $65,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $118,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 320

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$66,150$85,800$117,950
Spokane$57,540$81,520$119,420

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$78,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $122,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$65,020$85,430$122,100
Charleston$63,290$83,050$101,180

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$80,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 190

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$37,120$79,850$99,690
Madison$50,530$78,210$98,380

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$79,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $60,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $106,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$66,380$85,570$110,990
Casper$54,050$73,750$114,950

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a physical therapist is $85,400 per year. Pediatric physical therapists may perhaps earn more, due to their specialized training and high demand. Salary varies by work setting; in general, physical therapists who work in nursing homes and home health agencies earn higher salaries. Salary also varies by geographic location. Currently the highest-paying major metropolitan area is Las Vegas. To earn extra pay, physical therapists can also work as a consultant to businesses or other organizations in need of their expertise.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states anticipates that the job growth rate for physical therapists from 2014 to 2024 will be 34%, which is considerably higher than average. Child physical therapists might expect a similar rate of growth. Job outlook is quite good thanks to new medical technologies that prolong the lives of special needs children, such as preterm babies and trauma victims, all of whom will require the therapists’ specialized skills.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$89710 Per Year

$43.12 Per Hour

Chicago IL Median Pay

$87510 Per Year

$42.007 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

To gain entrance to graduate school in physical therapy, students must first earn an undergraduate degree from a four-year college. It is advisable to major or minor in subjects such as biology, anatomy, child development, neuroscience or physiology. Many strong students compete for admission to graduate programs in physical therapy, so maintaining a high grade point average in a science-related subject is important. The graduate records exam (GRE) is also required for admission to graduate school.

Show Me Schools »

2

Enter graduate school to complete your doctoral degree.

Pediatric physical therapists must graduate from a physical therapy program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). In the past, the Master of Physical Therapy degree required 2-2.5 years for a student to earn after an undergraduate degree has been completed. However, the Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) is now the required degree. The DPT takes at least three years, and provides in-depth training in pharmacology, radiology, and body systems. In 2017, new graduates taking the national physical therapy licensure exam need to complete a DPT.

3

Complete an internship and consider residency.

While in graduate school, future pediatric PTs must complete an internship under supervision from a licensed clinician. You could then complete an APTA-credentialed post-professional clinical residency in pediatric physical therapy if you desire; this provides additional expertise in anatomy, child development and body systems.

4

Become licensed.

Licensing requirements vary by state. In general, licensing requires completing a degree from an accredited graduate program as well as passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

5

Pursue specialty certification.

After becoming licensed as a physical therapist and completing specialist training, prospective pediatric PTs are eligible to take the Physical Therapist Specialist Certification Examination.

6

Fulfill continuing education requirements.

Throughout their careers, licensed therapists will be required to complete periodic continuing education requirements in order to renew their licenses.

7

Explore career advancement.

Pediatric PTs can advance their careers by taking on supervisory roles, such as training future therapists or managing physical therapy programs in settings such as hospitals and rehabilitation centers. PTs can choose to develop their own private practice, or enter a group practice with other physical therapists or physicians, which may carry the advantage of higher pay.

Exploring the Degree Path

DOCTOR OF PHYSICAL THERAPY (DPT)

8 years, including optional residency

A Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, or DPT, is now required for licensure as a physical therapist in all states. Most children’s physical therapists first earn a bachelor’s degree before entering physical therapy school. After graduation and licensure, many also complete an optional one-year residency in pediatrics.

At the bachelor’s level, aspiring physical therapists can major in any subject. However, in order to apply to physical therapy school, they need to complete prerequisite courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, chemistry, physics, behavioral sciences, and math. Some universities offer a pre-physical therapy track to help students meet these requirements.

Show Me Schools »

Most children’s physical therapists spend four years earning a bachelor’s and three years earning a doctorate. A few schools offer 3+3 programs that allow well-qualified students to enter PT school after three years of college. Another accelerated option is the freshman entry program, which combines the two degrees into a single pathway.

In order to become licensed as a physical therapist, students must graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Over 200 universities across the country currently offer accredited DPT programs.

Physical therapy students do about 80 percent of their learning in the classroom and lab studying subjects like:

Movement science

Study the physical and neurological processes related to normal and abnormal movement.

Examination and evaluation

Learn how different standardized tests can be used to measure movement and function.

Pharmacology

Gain an understanding of how medications can be used to improve function.

Musculoskeletal management

Practice treating common conditions through therapeutic exercise and movement retraining.

Physical therapy students spend the remaining 20 percent of their instructional time in clinical settings. These are opportunities to practice skills with real patients under the guidance of a licensed therapist. Students gain a deeper understanding of major clinical disciplines like musculoskeletal and neuromuscular therapy. They also experience working as part of a healthcare team.

After earning a DPT and obtaining a license, therapists can complete an optional one-year residency in pediatrics. Pediatric physical therapy residents rotate through a variety of care settings, including the neonatal intensive care unit, acute inpatient therapy, and school-based therapy. They also take classes and pursue scholarly and research activities.

Some therapists also complete subspecialty training in the form of a one-year fellowship. There are currently no accredited fellowships specific to pediatrics. However, some children’s physical therapists pursue fellowship training in neonatology. Others study clinical areas like orthopaedics, critical care, or hand therapy.

Keys to Success as a Pediatric Physical Therapist

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Emotional strength and resilience

Children’s developing bodies are amazingly plastic and have a surprising potential for rehabilitation, which enhances the rewarding nature of pediatric physical therapy. However, a therapist must also be prepared for the challenges of working with children whose movement may remain impaired throughout life.

Communication and interpersonal skills

The therapist must be able to convey information to children and their family in a compassionate manner, while at the same time motivating them to continue therapy to meet their maximum potential.

Motivational skills

PTs need the talent of a “coach” to motivate children to push past obstacles.

Stress management

The ability to handle the stress of children’s frustrations as well as the family stresses that may burden the child is also valuable.

Additional Credentials

The American Board of Physical Therapist Specialties (ABPTS) offers optional board certification in pediatrics. This credential signifies a high degree of knowledge, skill, and experience in working with this infants, children, and teens.

In order to become board certified in pediatrics, therapists must be licensed, pass an exam, and meet one of the following experience requirements:

Katherine Rush, PT

Katherine Rush, PT graduated from the University of Missouri in 1998 and has spent the last 17 years working as a physical therapist in a variety of healthcare settings. For the last 10 years she has focused on the development of programs related to pelvic health in men, women and children.

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