Five Tips for Becoming a Pediatric Occupational Therapist
If you have an interest in becoming a pediatric occupational therapist, investigating if your interest can blossom into a passion is the first step. Occupational therapists who work with children must have a love for the job, as emotional connection is a foundation for serving children. If you are considering starting out in pediatric occupational therapy, or you are transitioning over to working with children, there are a few key things to consider.
Tip #1: Self Reflection: Am I Playful?
Self-reflection is a critical skill for professional success in most careers and evaluating whether you are drawn to the pediatric world certainly requires this. Working with children is a specialty because along with all the explicit, developmental knowledge and therapeutic expertise involved, you must have the desire to connect and relate to these little friends.
Pediatric OT is a science and an art. Are you a “kid” person who can let loose and play? Are you able to be unapologetically silly, in hopes of inspiring and motivating these struggling but beautiful, wonderful beings? It is a skill that is hard to teach but can absolutely be learned with the desire.
Tip #2: Get Experience with Kids
If you are not already a parent or have not had a history of nannying, caring for siblings/relative’s children, summer camp counseling, etc., increasing your experience being around children in structured and unstructured situations is essential. Understanding how development looks and feels organically out in the world is a critical step beyond reading about ages and stages in books. It also allows you to find your inner playfulness so that piece is natural for you once you begin working with children with differences.
If you do have a background of being around children, and you know of specific populations that you would like to serve in the pediatric community, try to diversify your experience by getting involved with children in those populations. For example, consider volunteering at a children’s therapy clinic, camps for children with Down Syndrome or Autism or at a therapeutic riding facility.
Tip #3: Investigate the Career Opportunities
Do some research regarding pediatric occupational therapy positions in your area via social media and internet job board searches. If you are not sure which pediatric settings you are drawn to, identify a few that you want to learn more about.
Reaching out to therapy clinics and/or organizations about observing, shadowing, or volunteering at these settings is the best way to get a feel for what the day to day would be like. In addition, through being physically present, you will make contacts with potential mentors who could be valuable resources.
Tip #4: Find a Mentor
Having an ambassador to join the pediatric OT world can help smooth the transition. There are quite a few different ways to seek out a mentor in the pediatric OT community. If you knew right away from getting your degree that you wanted to work in pediatrics and you sought out the pediatric fieldwork experiences, you may have a mentor in mind. This may be someone who you built rapport with, who you respect as a professional, and who you could easily see yourself emulating their therapeutic style. Finding a personal connection is ideal, but not always possible.
Knowing other occupational therapists who work in pediatrics is another route to explore. Requesting to observe sessions with someone you know is a comfortable way to determine if a mentoring relationship is possible. If you know of family or friends whose children have worked with OTs, request an introduction to open communication for possible observations or other opportunities to learn.
If you do not have any direct or indirect personal connections with pediatric OTs, reach out to facilities who offer pediatric OT in your area and ask to volunteer or observe. Express your interest in joining this practice area and show your commitment by initiating a relationship and showing up. The more you reach out, the more opportunities to be exposed to a variety of potential mentors.
I have found throughout the course of my OT career that OTs are as a group some of the most generous hearts. Mentoring is a cornerstone for propelling our profession forward, so do not be afraid to reach out and ask!
Tip #5: Determine Areas of Further Self Education
Once you have a better idea of which pediatric setting is of most interest to you, gather information regarding any specialized certifications/trainings that may make you either feel more prepared or more marketable to future employers.
An example would be getting certifications in Sensory Integration, Neurodevelopmental Treatment, DIR/Floortime or Feeding methods. If you are not able to or sure of committing to a certification, take introductory courses in the above or in IEP goal writing, depending on the settings you are interested in applying.
You can also get started exploring the plethora of evidence-based online pediatric courses on MedBridge, our recommended online CEU provider, using this link with our promo code MYOTSPOT to save $150 off your annual subscription.
Some facilities or companies may provide trainings as well, which would be something to be familiar with before or during the application process. In addition, collecting references to support your practice, such as developmental resources, evidenced-based practice research articles, or textbooks written by specific pioneers in the field is recommended.
In pediatric occupational therapy, it is the children who are our greatest guides and teachers. No amount of school or courses can teach us what they will. We must be willing to take their lead and attune to their needs in the moment as well as longer term. We must be willing to play and have fun, while using our clinical reasoning to help create their path to growth.
To be a truly impactful pediatric OT, we must be able to dissect the child’s foundational challenges while having an appreciation for their gifts and strengths as the tools to help them succeed and progress. And although as OTs we are experts in our field, we should always remember no one is more of an expert on a child than his or her parent and/or primary caregiver.
Pediatric occupational therapy is such a rewarding professional path, as you can positively impact the lives of children and families.
If you think this could be your professional passion, we hope these five tips will help you initiate your journey into becoming a pediatric occupational therapist!
If you’re a pediatric OT and have any other tips you’d like to share for any prospective peds OTs, please let us know in the comments!