How to become a pediatric physical therapist assistant

A Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA) is a healthcare professional who works under the supervision of a licensed pediatric physical therapist. The role primarily focuses on helping children from infancy through adolescence who have physical impairments, developmental issues, or injuries.

Their duties include assisting with exercises, tracking patients’ progress, and providing support during various physical therapy treatments.

PPTAs play a vital role in helping children regain their mobility, improve their physical skills, and achieve a better quality of life.


Importance of PPTAs in the Healthcare Industry


Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants are an essential part of the healthcare ecosystem, particularly in the realm of pediatric care.

They provide valuable support to physical therapists and contribute to speeding up the recovery process for young patients. Given that early intervention is crucial for many conditions and injuries, PPTAs help ensure that children receive timely and appropriate care.

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Their work not only alleviates physical discomfort but also aids in the emotional and psychological well-being of children and their families. By facilitating effective therapy sessions, they make it easier for pediatric physical therapists to focus on assessment and planning, thus enhancing the overall quality of healthcare services.


Scope and Potential for Career Growth

The demand for specialized healthcare services, like pediatric physical therapy, is on the rise, creating numerous job opportunities for PPTAs.

According to various employment statistics, the physical therapist assistant field is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations, and the need for specialized roles, such as pediatric care, adds another layer of job security. Once you are a licensed PPTA, there are multiple pathways for career advancement.

You could opt for additional certifications, focus on research, or even aim to become a pediatric physical therapist with further education and training. The role offers not only a competitive salary but also immense personal satisfaction, as you play a part in improving children’s lives.

Educational Requirements

  • High School Prerequisites

The journey to becoming a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA) begins in high school. It is essential to have a strong foundation in subjects such as biology, physics, and mathematics, as they form the base for understanding the human body and its mechanics.

High school students aspiring to become PPTAs should also consider taking courses in health sciences or participating in physical education activities to gain some preliminary exposure to the field.

  • Associate’s Degree in Physical Therapist Assistant Program

After completing high school, the next step is to enroll in an accredited Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program, which typically results in an associate’s degree.

These programs usually take about two years to complete and include both classroom instruction and clinical practice. Courses often cover subjects like anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, and therapeutic exercises.

It is crucial to select a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), as this is a requirement for licensure in most states.

Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is a crucial factor to consider when selecting a PTA program. Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards and adequately prepares students for their future roles as physical therapist assistants.

Attending an accredited program is usually a requirement for sitting for the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and obtaining state licensure.

Physical therapist assistant Specialization in Pediatrics

While a general PTA program will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to become a licensed physical therapist assistant, specializing in pediatrics will require additional training and education.

Pediatric physical therapy involves working with children from infancy through adolescence, and it requires a specialized skill set to address the unique needs of this population.

Courses and Training Specific to Pediatrics

After completing a general PTA program, you may choose to take additional courses or training specific to pediatrics. These may include courses on pediatric anatomy and physiology, developmental milestones, common pediatric conditions and injuries, and therapeutic interventions for children.

Some PTA programs offer pediatric courses as part of their curriculum, while others may require you to seek additional training through continuing education programs or specialized certifications.


Clinical experience is a crucial component of any PTA program, and it is especially important for those who wish to specialize in pediatrics.

Internships provide hands-on experience working with children under the supervision of licensed physical therapists. These internships often take place in settings such as pediatric hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, or private practices that specialize in pediatric care.

During your internship, you will have the opportunity to observe and assist with the assessment and treatment of pediatric patients, as well as gain experience in developing and implementing treatment plans.

Licensing and Certification

After completing your education, the next significant steps in becoming a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA) are getting licensed and considering additional certifications.

This section will guide you through the nuances of the licensing and certification processes.

Overview of State Requirements

Each state has its own set of requirements for becoming a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA). However, most states have some common elements:

  1. Completion of an accredited Physical Therapist Assistant program
  2. Passing the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs
  3. Submission of an application for licensure to the state board
  4. Background checks and verification of educational qualifications

National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)

The NPTE is a standardized test administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). The exam evaluates your competence and readiness to practice as an entry-level PTA. The NPTE covers a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, diseases and conditions that impact physical therapy, interventions, and professional responsibilities.

Preparing for the NPTE typically involves a period of intensive study and may include the use of study guides, practice exams, and possibly enrolling in a prep course. Passing this exam is a requirement for licensure in all U.S. jurisdictions.

State Licensure

After passing the NPTE, you will need to apply for licensure in the state where you plan to practice. The application process typically involves submitting proof of education from an accredited institution, passing NPTE scores, and sometimes additional state jurisprudence exams or background checks. Once the state board reviews and approves your application, you will be issued a license to practice as a Physical Therapist Assistant.

Pediatric Certifications

While getting licensed allows you to practice as a PTA, specializing in pediatrics may require further certifications. These are optional but could give you a competitive advantage in the job market.

Optional but Beneficial

Having additional certifications in pediatric care can help you stand out among other PTAs. It shows potential employers and clients that you have specialized skills and knowledge in pediatric care, beyond what is covered in a general PTA program.

List of Certifications Relevant to Pediatrics

  1. Pediatric Certified Specialist (PCS): Offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, this certification requires a minimum of 2,000 hours of pediatric physical therapy experience and passing an exam.
  2. Certification in Neonatal Physical Therapy: This is for those who intend to work with newborns and infants. Requirements usually include both coursework and clinical experience.
  3. Certified Early Intervention Specialist: This certification focuses on working with children in their early developmental stages, particularly those with or at risk of developmental delays.
  4. Aquatic Therapy Certification: This is useful if you plan to incorporate water-based therapy into your pediatric treatments.

Skills Needed

While educational qualifications and certifications are crucial, a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA) also needs a set of skills that go beyond the textbooks.

These skills are often a combination of both soft and technical abilities that enable you to interact effectively with patients, parents, and other healthcare professionals, as well as administer therapies proficiently. Below, we delve into the essential soft and technical skills needed for a successful career as a PPTA.

  1. Soft Skills
  2. Empathy
  3. Communication
  4. Patience
  5. Teamwork
  6. Technical Skills
  7. Understanding of Child Anatomy and Physiology
  8. Mastery of Therapeutic Exercises
  9. Assessment Skills

Knowledge of Assistive Devices and Technology

Children may need to use assistive devices like braces, wheelchairs, or other equipment. Familiarity with these aids and the ability to teach children and their families about proper usage is vital.

Safety Protocols

Children are more susceptible to injuries or accidents, especially during physical therapy sessions. An understanding of safety protocols specific to pediatric care is necessary to minimize risks.

By honing these soft and technical skills, you can be well-prepared to face the challenges and rewards of a career in pediatric physical therapy.

Job Market and Opportunities

After fulfilling the educational, licensing, and skill requirements, you’ll be eager to dive into the job market. This section aims to give you an overview of the types of workplaces that employ Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistants (PPTAs), the salary range you can expect, and the opportunities for career advancement.

Types of Workplaces

  • Hospitals

Working in a hospital setting offers a fast-paced environment where you may encounter a wide range of pediatric conditions. You’ll collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care.

  • Outpatient Clinics

These are often specialized clinics focusing solely on physical therapy services. The pace may be slower than in hospitals, and you’ll have a chance to develop longer-term relationships with your young patients.

  • Schools

As a PPTA, you may also find opportunities in the educational system, helping children with disabilities or developmental issues integrate better into the school environment. Your role might involve not just physical therapy but also educational guidance.

  • Private Practices

Some pediatric physical therapists operate their own clinics, offering specialized services. Working in such a setting can provide a more personalized work environment and may offer a higher degree of flexibility.

  • Rehabilitation Centers

These centers often focus on helping children recover from serious injuries or surgeries. Your role would be critical in helping young patients regain mobility and improve their quality of life.

Salary Range of pediatric physical therapist assistant

The salary for a PPTA can vary widely depending on factors like location, experience, and workplace. The median annual salary for a general Physical Therapist Assistant in the United States was around $58,000.

Specializing in pediatrics could potentially earn you a higher salary, especially if you have additional certifications. Salaries may also be higher in urban areas where the cost of living is greater.

Career Advancement Opportunities

  1. Specialized Certifications: As mentioned earlier, additional certifications can make you more marketable and may result in a higher salary.
  2. Continuing Education: Taking advanced courses or earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree related to healthcare can further enhance your skills and open doors to more specialized roles or managerial positions.
  3. Teaching and Mentoring: With years of experience, you could transition into a role where you teach new PPTAs, either in an academic setting or within your organization.
  4. Research and Development: If you have an interest in contributing to the field’s body of knowledge, you could become involved in research projects that aim to improve pediatric physical therapy methods and outcomes.
  5. Transition to Pediatric Physical Therapist: For those looking to make a significant career leap, obtaining the necessary education to become a fully licensed Pediatric Physical Therapist is an option. This would involve completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program and passing additional licensing exams.

Tips for Success as a pediatric physical therapist assistant

After you’ve successfully become a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA), the journey doesn’t end there. Continuous improvement, networking, and staying up-to-date with the latest in the field are crucial for long-term success and career growth. Below are some tips to help you thrive in your role as a PPTA.

  • Networking
  • Join Professional Organizations
  • Use Social Media Wisely
  • Build Strong Relationships at Work
  • Continuing Education
  • Enroll in Workshops and Seminars
  • Online Courses and Webinars
  • Seek Advanced Certifications
  • Staying Updated with the Latest Research and Techniques
  • Subscribe to Journals and Newsletters
  • Participate in Research
  • Attend Industry Conferences
  • Leverage Technology

Conclusion on How to become a pediatric physical therapist assistant

Embarking on a career as a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant (PPTA) is not just a professional endeavor; it’s a calling to make a real difference in the lives of children and their families.

From understanding the educational requirements to passing licensure exams, and from mastering both soft and technical skills to navigating the job market, the journey to becoming a PPTA is a holistic experience that prepares you for a fulfilling role in healthcare.

As with any career, the first step is often the most daunting, but it’s also the most crucial. Whether you’re about to graduate from high school and are considering your career options, or perhaps you’re in a different healthcare role and are thinking about a switch, there’s no time like the present to make your move.

In a world where healthcare is ever-evolving, the role of a Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant remains a cornerstone in delivering compassionate, effective care to the youngest patients.


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