Becoming a Pediatric Occupational Therapist: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a pediatric occupational therapist. Research the education requirements, training, licensure information and experience you need to start a career in pediatric occupational therapy.

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Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Pediatric occupational therapists help children who are recovering from a variety of injuries, disabilities and illnesses readjust to their daily tasks and routines. They might design and implement therapy services that help children participate in school, evaluate the abilities of disabled children and help children use special equipment or devices. These services might be provided on an outpatient basis, in the child's home or in a clinic. This profession may be physically demanding, as therapists sometimes need to lift or move patients. Travel to various work sites may be required, and working evenings or weekends to meet patients' scheduling needs is often required.

Degree Level Master's required
Degree Field Occupational therapy
Training and Experience Training provided through required clinical practicums; 1 to 2 years of experience typically needed
Licensure and Certification Professional licensure required in all states; other voluntary certifications available
Key Skills Communication, interpersonal and writing skills, compassion, patience, flexibility
Salary $84,270 per year (2018 median salary for all pediatric occupational therapists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (July to August 2015), (July 2015)

Let's examine the steps required to become a pediatric occupational therapist.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students interested in a career in occupational therapy can choose from a variety of undergraduate majors including psychology, anatomy, biology, anthropology, kinesiology, sociology and liberal arts. Regardless of major, it's important that individuals meet the admission requirements of the occupational therapy master's degree program they intend to enroll in. There are also many schools that offer 5-year combination programs. These programs combine three years of undergraduate study and two years of coursework at the master's level.

Success Tips

  • Complete volunteer experiences. To enter most master's programs, students must complete a minimum number of hours of supervised experience working with individuals who have developmental, physical or mental disabilities. In some cases, this experience must be performed in different settings, such as pediatrics, mental health, geriatrics or rehabilitation.
  • Have a competitive GPA. Most master's programs require students to have a cumulative GPA that is within 2.7 to 3.2. Students with a higher GPA will likely have an advantage when applying to master's programs.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

In addition to completing coursework, such as therapeutic measurement, functional anatomy for rehabilitation and assistive technology, participating in fieldwork training is an integral part of the curriculum for master's programs in occupational therapy. The majority of schools require students to complete Level 1 and Level 2 fieldwork experiences. Level 1 fieldwork is designed to introduce students to work within clinical settings. Level 2 fieldwork contains a combination of part-time and full-time work that is designed to promote reflective practice, clinical reasoning, competence and professionalism. All fieldwork experiences are performed under the supervision of licensed or certified personnel.

Success Tip

  • Use fieldwork to gain experience in pediatric settings. Some programs may require students complete clinical rotations in a variety of settings, such as hospitals or outpatient centers. If possible, students should opt to work in a pediatric ward to become familiar with working with children.

Step 3: Obtain State License or Certification

All states require that individuals successfully complete the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam to practice. Students must be a graduate of an accredited program and meet all fieldwork requirements to qualify. Upon passing the exam, individuals can use the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) designation.

Step 4: Get a Job as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Most pediatric occupational therapists work in hospitals or in the offices of physical and speech therapists or audiologists. Some also work in schools and home health services. Most employers prefer to hire pediatric occupational therapists who have previous experience working with children, and some will count fieldwork toward this experience requirement. It is essential that a pediatric occupational therapist enjoys working with children and has strong interpersonal skills.

Step 5: Maintain OTR Certification

The OTR credential is valid for three years. To maintain this certification, therapists must complete a certification renewal application, pay a renewal fee and abide by the NBCOT Candidate/Certificant Code of Conduct. They must also complete 36 Professional Development Units (PDUs) during this 3-year period.

Step 6: Complete a Post-Professional Certificate

Individuals looking to learn advanced concepts in providing occupational therapy to children can find post-professional certificate programs in pediatrics. Courses covered in these programs include treatment and evaluation of pediatric feeding, sensory integration treatment, school-based practice and vision rehab. Credits earned in these certificate programs can transfer to further study in a post-professional master's or doctorate program in occupational therapy. Therapists who complete post-professional education learn advanced practice, research and theoretical skills.

In summary, a pediatric occupational therapist needs a master's degree in occupational therapy, along with state licensure or certification and experience working with children. Pediatric OT's might opt to complete a post-professional certificate or degree program to learn advanced concepts and skills.

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