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Pediatric Therapists: Salary, Job Description and Duties

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a pediatric therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and other requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists may choose to specialize as a pediatric therapist in their field. Pediatric therapists work with children and must be trained in how to interact with and treat minors. A master's or doctoral degree are required to be a pediatric therapist in the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Essential Information

Pediatric therapists provide children with specialized care in a number of areas, including physical therapy (PT), occupational therapy (OT), and speech therapy. In addition to the usual subject matter that one would study in order to become a PT, OT, or speech therapist, a pediatric therapist must also learn how to interact with and treat minors specifically. Each type of pediatric therapist described below requires a master's degree, at least.

Career Pediatric Physical Therapist Pediatric Occupational Therapist Speech-Language Therapist
Education Requirements Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree Master's degree Master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 34% (all physical therapists) 27% (all occupational therapists) 21% (all speech-language pathologists)
Median Salary (2015)* $84,020 (all physical therapists) $80,150 (all occupational therapists) $73,410 (all speech-language pathologists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salaries for Pediatric Therapists

Therapists who provide specialized care to children can include pediatric physical therapists, pediatric occupational therapists and pediatric speech therapists. While salaries range from one specialty area to the next, PayScale reports that pediatric physical therapists earned a median salary of $63,003 as of January 2016, with 493 individuals reporting. Pediatric occupational therapists earned a median wage of $60,050 per year with 533 individuals reporting. And while no salary data was available specifically for speech therapists working with children, PayScale reported that speech-language therapists in general earned a median annual wage of $53,230; however, their figures were based on only 76 individuals reporting.

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Job Description

Health care professionals who provide care to children as pediatric physical therapists work to enhance patients' mobility and reduce pain, while occupational pediatric therapists show patients how to use equipment designed to help them perform everyday tasks and improve their independence. Pediatric speech therapists are also among the professionals providing specialized care to children. They employ treatment methods designed to mitigate the effects of swallowing and communication disorders caused by brain injuries, developmental delays or physical defects.

Training Requirements

Pediatric therapists working in physical therapy generally need a doctorate and passing scores on a licensing exam before they're qualified to practice. Occupational and speech therapists typically need to earn a master's degree in their field before they can sit for their respective licensing exams.

Specialized training in pediatrics is often incorporated into occupational and speech therapy graduate degree programs. Some physical therapy programs also offer elective tracks for professionals who want to work with children, though post-graduate pediatric physical therapy residences are more common.

Necessary Skills

Success as a pediatric therapist in each of these fields will require good physical conditioning, since therapists spend many hours on their feet and can be tasked with lifting and positioning patients. The flexibility and problem-solving skills needed to adapt treatment plans to fit individuals' needs are also required, along with the interpersonal skills essential for building children's trust. Additionally, pediatric therapists will need to be able to communicate treatment plans with other physicians and health care staff as well as teachers and parents. Patience and compassion are also essential, since learning to cope with disability or illness can be a slow and frustrating process for patients.

Job Duties

One of the first job duties of pediatric therapists is to perform an initial patient exam. This could entail reviewing information and recommendations from a child's primary care physician, performing observations and, as in the case with speech therapists, administering tests designed to evaluate the severity of patients' swallowing or communication disorders.

Once this process has been completed, pediatric therapists develop and carry out a treatment plan. Pediatric physical therapists, for example, are often responsible for walking patients through exercises and treatment modalities designed to help them regain their strength or range of motion, while pediatric occupational therapists might show patients how to walk, eat or perform other everyday tasks using assistive devices. Pediatric speech therapists are often tasked with teaching children how to modify their voices, use alternative forms of communication or perform exercises to help them develop the muscles involved in swallowing.

Pediatric therapists are also responsible for evaluating children's progress and communicating treatment outcomes with children and their families. They also modify treatment plans when needed and maintain records of patients' progress.

Pediatric therapists are highly trained professionals in the fields of physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. They have been trained in how to interact with minors while providing PT, OT or speech therapy services. They are responsible for implementing programs to address their clients' issues and assessing their progress, and must modify treatment plans as needed while maintaining patient records and communicating with their patients and their patients' families.

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