I often reflect on the journey I took from deciding I wanted to become a pediatric physical therapist when I was in high school, to my first day of PT graduate school, to today as a pediatric PT at NAPA Center Boston. What advice, tools, and tricks would I give my high school self to better prepare for what is ahead? If you are thinking about becoming a pediatric physical therapist yourself, or are a parent of a child working with a physical therapist and are curious how we ended up in this field, here are 5 things you need to know about becoming a pediatric physical therapist.
Most physical therapy programs in the country are a 3-year graduate program, in which you will become a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) following graduation. This requires an undergraduate degree, pre-requisite courses, and many logged hours of observation.
Whichever program you choose, know this: it is not easy.
You will learn A LOT in those 3 years. A lot of PT programs wait until you have learned all the foundational knowledge before even touching on pediatrics in year 3. If you have an interest in working with kids even prior to starting PT school, contact local pediatric outpatient clinics, early intervention agencies, school therapists, or even local pediatric hospitals— many clinics (including NAPA!) love having volunteers. It allows you to observe the therapists in action to log your shadowing hours and also gives the therapists an extra set of hands!
If you discover your interest in working with kids during PT school, talk to the clinical coordinator for your school’s program about completing a pediatric clinical rotation. PT students typically have 4-6 clinical rotations throughout the 3-year program and it is important to capitalize on any pediatric experience you are able to complete. It is even helpful to babysit or work as a summer camp counselor to find out if you enjoy working with kids!
Even after graduating and becoming a PT, you will never stop learning. There is always new research being published, new colleagues with different experiences to learn from, and kids with unique diagnoses walking through the doors who you have not worked with previously. Specifically in pediatrics, it is crucial to learn from other disciplines, such as occupational and speech therapy, so you can aid in treating the whole child. Seek out these learning opportunities as often as possible, collaborate with your team members, and never fear asking questions!
You will find that the world of PT, specifically pediatrics, is very small. Reach out to and stay in contact with any PTs you have shadowed in the past, your professors and classmates, clinical instructors, past colleagues, and peers you meet at conferences and continuing education courses. This will allow you to make connections and take advantage of any opportunities for your career that may arise in a variety of settings!
Every child and family you work with is different. Even if multiple children have the same diagnosis, each will present uniquely and with his or her own personality. What works with one child may look completely different with another child. It is crucial to try, adjust, be creative, try again a different way, and be ok if something does not go as planned. And don’t be afraid to ask for help! Brainstorming ideas and problem solving with colleagues is the best way to help your kiddos meet their goals.
Working with children as they develop, grow, and meet new milestones allows you the honor to become an important addition to their family. The most exciting part about being a pediatric PT is teaching and empowering parents, siblings, and extended family members to help their child meet his or her goals.
You will be their #1 cheerleader as they learn to crawl or take their first steps. It truly is one of the most incredible professions!
Micayla Pedrick is a pediatric physical therapist at NAPA Center Boston. Micayla’s favorite springtime activity is growing fresh vegetables and herbs in her garden to cook with in new recipes. Her 2 year old Husky, Theo, loves to keep her company while frolicking through the yard and gobbling up delicious zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes!