I have been an occupational therapist for 12-13 years (I took a year and a bit off to have kids). I have seen the changes that the profession has gone through and those that it is going through. From capitation of inpatient therapy to funding cuts to early intervention, it has been a roller coaster. The one thing that I do think that has been constant is that becoming a pediatric occupational therapist is NOT an entry-level position, even for the newly minted OTD (entry-level).
Pediatrics has many different facets in itself. Just look at the age range that encompasses pediatrics – 0 (birth) until 21 years of age. Yes, some programs consider under 21-years of age as part of the pediatric population.
So what are the areas of Pediatric:
- Orthopedics – Usually this is part of a hospital program. In California, it can be part of California Children’s Services Medical Therapy Unit which primarily treats children with Cerebral Palsy and other neuro-skeletal diagnoses.
- Early Intervention – Children under the age of 3 years are in this group.
- School-Based – Preschool – over 3 years of age up to 18 years
- Outpatient Clinic – Dependent on the clinic
- Sensory Clinic
- Inpatient Rehabilitation
Within these groups these there are subspecialties (i.e. Hand therapy, augmentative communication, feeding, oral motor, swallowing).
Children are not small adults. Majority of the time as a therapist you are not RE-habilitating them, you are habilitating, supporting, challenging, educating.
It is hard enough for an entry-level therapist to try and get the skills down to understand what to do with a child, then on top you have the family. Family that is confused, concerned, and have been send here and there for this test, that doctor, this specialist. You become a different type of therapist that, if not open, can misrepresent what the occupational therapy profession can do for their child.
Option for new grads to consider if they want to go into pediatrics: take a lower rate to insure mentoring and supervision for at least a year. Actual onsite, face-to-face mentoring and supervision. Creating a solid foundation for the rest of your OT career. Think of it has been paid for continuing your education and becoming a good representation of the occupational therapy profession.