Physical Therapy PT

| 27 July 2023

The data in this blog is for general informational purposes only and information presented was accurate as of the publication date.

How to Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist

pediatric physical therapist working with a child

Do you enjoy learning about how the body moves and working with children? You may want to consider pursuing a career in pediatric physical therapy. Pediatric physical therapists work with various cases, such as injuries, disorders and chronic illnesses. 

Learn how to become a pediatric physical therapist, including educational and clinical requirements, and what you can expect in the career. 

What is a Pediatric Physical Therapist? 

what is a pediatric physical therapist

A pediatric physical therapist is a healthcare professional who provides rehabilitation services to children, from infants to 18-year-olds. Pediatric physical therapists treat an array of injuries, disorders and diseases that impact a child’s movement and body development. 

Pediatric physical therapists work with patients to improve their balance, motion, stamina and coordination so they may move through life more comfortably and independently.

What Does a Pediatric Physical Therapist Do?

pediatric physical therapist responsibilities

Although the role of a pediatric physical therapist mostly involves helping young patients improve their range of motion, there are several other responsibilities of pediatric physical therapists1

  • Perform examinations and assessments: Assess the patient’s condition to diagnose areas of muscle with movement limitations.  
  • Develop treatment plans: Create customized treatment plans for every patient, including short- and long-term goals. 
  • Work with patients: Work through stretches and exercises to help patients move their bodies safely. 
  • Monitor patient’s progress: Continuously monitor patient’s range of motion, balance, stamina and coordination throughout treatment. 
  • Educate children and their families: Provide information to patients and their families about their diagnosis, treatment plans and at-home exercises. 

Pediatric physical therapists also need to be an advocate for the patient. You’ll likely need to communicate with other healthcare providers, like the patient’s pediatrician, about their conditions and treatment plans. 

Five Steps To Becoming a Pediatric Physical Therapist


Field of study Physical therapy
Licensure National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by FSBPT
Specialization Pediatrics
Median salary (2021) $95,620 per year (all physical therapists)
Job outlook (2021-2031) 17% growth (all physical therapists)
Number of jobs (2021) 238,800 (all physical therapists)

There are educational and certification requirements to become a pediatric physical therapist. Follow these five steps to pursue a career in pediatric physical therapy. 

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

You must earn an undergraduate degree to apply to a graduate program in physical therapy. You may also choose to complete a combined program in which you can earn both your bachelor’s degree and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). 

Consider majoring in the following fields during your undergraduate program:

  • Biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Physiology 
  • Child Development
  • Neuroscience 
  • Anatomy 

We recommend maintaining a higher GPA in your selected major to improve your chances of being accepted into a DPT program.

2. Apply to Graduate School

After completing your undergraduate degree, the next step is to apply to graduate school. Employers will likely require you to have a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). 

Many DPT programs take three years to complete. USAHS’ DPT Residential program takes 2.7 years to complete.* The USAHS DPT program provides blended coursework with in-person immersive labs. Students can experience clinical simulations while practicing physical therapy alongside peers and professionals. 

The DPT program should hold an accreditation status, which means it’s in compliance with the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) standards. You can confirm if a DPT program holds an accreditation status on the CAPTE website or on the program website, like at USAHS3

3. Complete a Clinical Experience

During the DPT program, you’ll complete clinical experience at a medical facility, like a hospital or clinic. At USAHS, we offer students clinical experience with clinical partners. These partners provide students with a real-world experience as well as networking opportunities in their selected field. 

4. Take the National Physical Therapy Examination

After you complete your DPT program and required clinical hours, you’ll need to apply to become a pediatric physical therapist in your state. Requirements vary by state. Go to your resident state’s American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or state board website for more information on requirements. 

All states require you to take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)—administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT)5. The NPTE is used to validate individuals have the proper knowledge to be licensed in physical therapy.

5. Specialize in Pediatrics

Congrats—you’ve passed the NPTE. You can now specialize in pediatric physical therapy with experiential hours. You’ll have the opportunity to shadow a pediatric physical therapist as well as to work one-on-one with patients in a supervised environment. 

Once you reach 2,000 experiential hours, you can apply for your certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS)6. After applying, you’ll be required to complete an exam to test your knowledge of pediatric physical therapy. Once you pass, you’ll receive a specialty certification and can work as a pediatric physical therapy specialist. 

Frequently Asked Questions

students learning in a physical therapy class

Below are commonly asked questions about becoming a pediatric physical therapist. 

How Long Does It Take To Become a Pediatric Physical Therapist? 

How long it takes for a student to become a pediatric physical therapist will depend on the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program they choose and what they do next. 

  • Most DPT programs take around three years
  • USAHS’ Residential DPT program takes 2.7 years with eight trimesters.* 
  • USAHS’ Flex DPT program takes four years with 12 trimesters.*

After completing a DPT program, you’ll need to account for clinical residency, passing the NPTE to obtain licensure, and applying for board certification in pediatrics through ABPTS6

What Skills Do You Need To Be a Pediatric Physical Therapist?

The skills required for a pediatric physical therapist are quite similar to a physical therapist. These include:

  • Interpersonal communication skills 
  • Time management and stamina to work longer hours
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Attentiveness and patience 
  • Ability to cope with workplace stress
  • Dexterity

Being a pediatric physical therapist can be rewarding but also fatiguing. Those that are interested in this role should actively practice stress management techniques. 

What Major Is Best for Pediatric Physical Therapy?

We recommend those interested in pediatric physical therapy earn their bachelor’s degree in these majors:

  • Biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Physiology 
  • Child Development
  • Neuroscience 
  • Anatomy 

During your undergraduate program, you’ll likely take courses in most of these fields. Maintaining a high GPA will improve your chances of being accepted into your ideal graduate program. 

Earn Your Doctor of Physical Therapy with USAHS 

If you’re interested in a career in pediatric physical therapy, you will need to complete a graduate degree. Choosing the right grad school will help you put your best foot forward in your new career. 

At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS), we offer several graduate programs in rehabilitative sciences. Contact an enrollment advisor today and take the first step toward earning your DPT.

The largest PT school in the United States,* the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers a hands-on Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. Join a collaborative cohort of peers who learn under the mentorship of expert faculty-practitioners. Practice with mock and real patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with a wide range of patients, as well as for advanced roles in research, practice leadership and policymaking. Residential (blended didactic courses + in-person labs on weekdays) and Flex (online courses + in-person labs on weekends) formats are available.

*Based on total DPT degrees conferred, as reported by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Data is captured by IPEDS through interrelated surveys conducted annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).


  1. C Bode, “Pediatric Physical Therapy at Home,” John Hopkins Medicine, last modified August 2022, 
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Physical Therapists,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last modified September 2022, 
  3. CAPTE, “Master List of Accredited Programs for the Physical Therapist,” CAPTE, 
  4. APTA, APTA, 
  5. FSBPT, “National Exam (NPTE®),” FSBPT, 
  6. APTA Specialist Certification, “From Application to Celebration: The Path to Your Specialist Credential,” APTA, 

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