Sunny Days Blog

How to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist

Pediatric PT blog Image (900 x 600 px)

Carola d’Emery, PT, PhD and Scott Rieger, MA, NCC, BCBA contributed to this post.

A career as a pediatric physical therapist provides many rewarding opportunities to help children and their families grow and thrive. While the path to this profession isn’t short or easy, if you have a passion for the health and medical field and enjoy working with children, it is worth every moment. And the job outlook for pediatric physical therapists is excellent—the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects physical therapist employment to grow 17% between now and 2031.

In this post, we answer common questions for those who are considering a pediatric physical therapy career.

What is a pediatric physical therapist? 

A pediatric physical therapist specializes in working with children from birth to age 18 to develop motor skills and recover from prior injuries. They focus on understanding and acquiring motor milestones, treating conditions resulting from illness or injuries (both congenital and acquired), and providing training to use adaptive equipment to support a child's motor function. Pediatric physical therapists provide treatment to improve/remediate these conditions and to ease the child’s challenges during everyday activities.


What is the difference between general physical therapy and pediatric physical therapy? 

General physical therapy tends to focus on rehabilitation of partially or completely lost functions, and alleviating pain and discomfort from injury or illness. Pediatric physical therapy tends to focus more on teaching motor skills (aka “habilitation”) to children and helping them complete activities within their daily routines.


Do you need a college degree to become a physical therapist?  

Yes. While each state requires different levels of education, the nation is trending toward requiring a doctorate to practice as a physical therapist.

In order to become a physical therapist, candidates must complete an undergraduate degree in a related biological/medical field of study and earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from a CAPTE (Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education) accredited college or university. Subsequently, graduates need to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).

For the states in which Sunny Days offers pediatric physical therapy services, the education requirements are as follows: 

New York: Master’s degree required

New Jersey: Doctoral degree (DPT) required

Pennsylvania: Doctoral degree (DPT) required

Delaware: Doctoral degree (DPT) required

Oklahoma: Doctoral degree (DPT) required

California: Doctoral degree (DPT) required

Additionally, each state has requirements for obtaining a license to practice as a Physical Therapist. Licensure information can be found on the respective state’s Board of Physical Therapy website.


How long does it take to become a physical therapist? How many years of school are required?  

It generally takes about 5-6 years to become a physical therapist, since both an undergraduate degree and doctorate are required. 

After earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree and passing the NPTE, graduates must practice in a pediatric setting for between 1,500 and 2,000 hours. After completing physical therapy practice hours, new therapists must pass a board examination specific to pediatrics. Physical therapists must also pass a state licensing exam.


How long is the NPTE?

The NPTE (National Physical Therapy Exam) contains 250 multiple choice questions to be completed in a maximum of 5 hours.


How much does a physical therapy certification cost? 

The cost to take the physical therapy boards ranges between $500-$800 and varies by state. 


What are your tips for getting through the pediatric physical therapy certification process?

Study all your materials! Be prepared to do critical analysis of case studies on your NPTE and board exams.


Where do pediatric physical therapists practice? 

Pediatric physical therapists practice in hospitals, clinics, private practices, schools, and private homes. 


What is rewarding about being a pediatric physical therapist? 

The process and results of pediatric physical therapy work is inherently rewarding.  Developing relationships with clients and their caregivers, and improving the lives of others is what drives pediatric physical therapists to dedicate their lives to this profession.

Pediatric physical therapists work not only with children, but their families too. Supporting the child and family alike requires soft skills such as compassion, attentive listening, and communication in addition to the medical knowledge, dexterity, and stamina you’ll acquire in your training program. 

To successfully build a Pediatric Physical Therapy career, therapists need to have reflective supervision and clinical support readily available, plus access to permanent continued education to keep abreast of research in the field.


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Are  you a pediatric physical therapist who is looking for new opportunities? Apply today to join our team.


Carola d'Emery, PT, PhD

Carola, a native of Chile, is responsible for the supervision of all trainings created by the Sunny Days’ Clinical Education Team, as well as for the creation of new trainings focused on refining the clinical skills of the Sunny Days’ practitioners in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and California. She also trains Early Interventionists via live webinars that are announced on our site. A bilingual English/Spanish Physical Therapist with more than 30 years of experience in the clinical field, Ms. d’Emery is also a former member of the New Jersey State Interagency Coordinating Council. Dr. d’Emery joined Sunny Days in 2007 as Targeted Clinical Educator, and became the Director of Training and Clinical Quality Assurance in 2019. She has a PhD in Movement Sciences from Columbia University and a MPT in Kinesiology from the School of Medicine of the University of Chile. She is a member of the International Society of Early Intervention and of the New Jersey Chapter of the American Physical Therapist Association.