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NGPT is here to pick the brain of experienced pediatric PT, Jen Salas

Pediatric Physical Therapy Series: Volume 1

Hi, new grads!  We’ve teamed up with a fantastic pediatric PT, Jen Salas, and are very excited to bring you a series of interviews, where she will share her wisdom with you. Today’s post is purely an introduction to our contributor…enjoy!

NGPT: Hi Jen! Thanks for reaching out to all the new PTs out there. We’re really excited to learn more about your career in pediatrics! Can you tell us a little about your background?

Jen: I call myself an infant movement professional. I am a PT who has ONLY practiced in pediatrics: intensive and traditional outpatient settings, charter schools, hospital system outpatient work, and early intervention (both within a hospital and in a home health system.) I am a certified infant massage instructor and an assistant instructor of Foundation Training.

Jeanene Salas – Pediatric Physical Therapist Extraordinairre!


NGPT: Where are you currently practicing?

Jen: Actually, I have left conventional practice settings and now travel the US (foreign countries in the not-too-far-off future) in what my partner and I have dubbed the Wellness Wagon. I network with practitioners and parents to bring another set of eyes & tools for enhancing movement skills to those who are hitting plateaus within conventional/traditional systems. My “job” now is sharing my knowledge of the body in an almost “grass roots” fashion, on a mission of empowering health through movement. I teach parents how to help their little ones to GROW WELL. I am using my PT education but not directly practicing physical therapy.

NGPT: What makes you passionate about pediatric physical therapy?

Jen: My personal passion, as years of practice led me to discover, is in early intervention because I feel it gives me the most direct access to making a lasting impact. I’m an out-of-the-box thinker and encourage you to be the same.  Our knowledge is nothing more than a base. As research enhances what we know, our skills should grow and our thoughts should continue to evolve, generating more questions which lend to more learning and understanding.  This should never cease throughout our careers & lives!

NGPT: A lot of our readers are very excited to become pediatric PTs, but they don’t know where to start. Do you have any advice for them?

Jen: As you know, PT school gives you a wealth of knowledge about the body in general, and only a small breadth of what to know about the developing body. You’ve probably learned a fair summary of the pediatric assessment tools to use and, if you’re lucky, you may have even had a decent experience for a clinical affiliation in a pediatric setting.  A good start, but I beg of you, humbly recognize that this is simply the beginning of your journey in the pediatric PT world. This field is broad, and “pediatric practice” can mean a lot of different things in terms of the patients you will see in the various types of settings within which you can fill the role of pediatric physical therapist.

NGPT: A lot of our new grad readers have been asking about working in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). What can you tell us about that?

Jen: Chances are, as a new grad fresh out of school and without “real working experience”, you are not likely to be working in a NICU.  Simply put, that is far too specialized.  Frankly, the babies are itty-bitty and fragile; and, this type of practice, ask anyone in the field, requires years of experience to be able to participate in professionally/clinically.

If you’d like to gain experience, there are so many routes to take: inpatient, outpatient, hospital systems, private practices, public school systems, charter schools, United Cerebral Palsy, Easter Seals, home health private practice, home health services supported by Medicaid & provided by state early intervention systems such as Early Steps in Florida… there are many avenues a pediatric PT could take.  So how do you decide what is right for you?  There isn’t one direct answer.

NGPT: In your opinion, what makes an excellent pediatric physical therapist?

Jen: The practitioners I’ve encountered who are the best at what they do {best patient care providers, best educators of their patients/clients, best facilitators of active healing} are those who are the most passionate about the work they are doing. They possess a thorough understanding of the issues at hand & how to address them AND have mastered the art of actively engaging their patients in a friendly, effective, maybe even FUN manner. This matters tremendously, especially with kids! If you think you are going to have a kid participate in boot camp of 30 sit-ups followed by other direct exercises without fun games like an “obstacle course challenge” hiding those exercises, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. That said, the delightful dandy of pediatric practice is that no 2 days will be the same, just as no 2 kiddos will be the same.

NGPT: How does one know where to start when searching for their first pediatric physical therapy job?

Jen: So what does that mean to you and how do you get there- to the place of knowing what niche is right for you & being GOOD at it? It truly boils down to a personal preference. No one can tell you the exact answer & it may take you years of different experiences to figure it out. An important first question to ask yourself:  what are you passionate about?  Give yourself time to discover this, don’t expect to know it immediately upon entering the field. Continue learning and see what sparks ignite for you. The same path is not for each practitioner. A good plan is to find an environment where you can explore a varied caseload with numerous diagnoses, as well as multiple treatment settings. If you can, find a job where you get to do home visits, as well as outpatient or inpatient clinical care. You may even wish to consider several part time jobs to start, then move on from there as you find the direction that grabs you.

NGPT: Thank you so much for your advice, Jen!

We will continue to post more of our chats with Jen Salas. Stay tuned! Please comment below or leave a question in the forums!



About Jeanene Salas

Jen is a pediatric physical therapist, certified infant massage instructor, and certified foundation training instructor.

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