As a health services professional, you may not always consider a career path involving pediatrics. Like many others, you might prefer working with adults. However, due to the current market trends, there is a real opportunity to build a strong career in pediatric therapy. “It really is a booming time for pediatric therapy,” says Daniela D`Alessandro, a Managing Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Health Services division. “Among the most in-demand positions are occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. The need has grown exponentially in just the last couple of years, and there aren’t enough available therapists to fill these roles.”
Among several factors, Daniela attributes this increase in pediatric therapy opportunities to the rise in special education screenings. “As more children qualify for special education, the need for these professionals continues to grow,” says Daniela. Due to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), children who qualify for special education are guaranteed a Free Appropriate Public Education that prepares them for further education, employment, and independent living. “Each child has unique needs, and therapy services are absolutely necessary to the success of these children.”
While there are several openings in pediatric therapy, most graduates are set on working with adults. However, the skills you learn in pediatrics can lend well to working with adults later. “Experience working in pediatrics supports your ability to work with the adult population as they re-gain skills lost due to illness or injury,” notes Mindy Booth, MA, OTR/L, a Senior Director of Clinical Services within The Execu|Search Group’s Health Services division. “Working with the pediatric population helps you develop creativity and a broad understanding of human development. You will have the opportunity to work with children to increase their cognitive, social-emotional, self-regulation, motor, and functional skills.”
Many open positions can be found in public schools, but there are also several opportunities at nonprofit organizations or government facilities. “In addition to those, there are always programs that require staff when school is not in session,” says Daniela. “If you pursue temporary or per diem opportunities, the need is so great that you’ll most likely have consistent work.”
For those interested in pursuing a position in pediatric therapy, Mindy suggests emphasizing a few key skills throughout the interview process. “A pediatric therapist requires sound reasoning, strong organizational skills, and the ability to work with professionals and families to explain therapeutic evaluation results,” she says. Additionally, because there is a high demand for therapists to work in a school-based setting, reviewing common terminology and educationally-based intervention fundamentals ensures you will be prepared for an interview. Mindy also recommends finding a strong mentor, which can help you stand out and assure a potential employer that you are motivated and prepared for a pediatric position.
If you would like any additional guidance on your path to becoming a pediatric therapist, Daniela suggests partnering with a staffing firm. Not only can they assist you in finding the right position for your career goals, but they can also provide benefits during your assignment or even continuing education courses. “For example, The Execu|Search Group offers clinical mentorship and shadowing opportunities, as well as other benefits such as health insurance, paid time off, and educational programs,” says Daniela.
While there are few barriers to entry, Daniela suggests that you may need a certification to successfully make the transition to this specialty. “For speech therapists, for example, you will need a Teacher of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD) certificate,” she says. “I’ve even expedited this when a candidate lands a position quickly.”
The future for the pediatric therapy field remains bright, as continued growth is projected. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists are growing at a much faster rate than other professions, with growth projections from 21%-34% over the next 10 years. “It doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon,” says Daniela. “I look forward to working with more pediatric therapists and watching how their careers transform in the coming years!”