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How to Enroll In the Right Physical Therapist School

physical therapist working with woman holding exercise ballObtaining a physical therapist degree is an important first step to beginning a fulfilling career in the medical care field. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been incapacitated as a result of injury or illness regain mobility and function. But before they can practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they must acquire the appropriate training and education. A PT must also become licensed in all states, a large number requiring that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So before choosing a physical therapy school, it’s essential to evaluate those you are thinking about to make sure they will provide a quality education and comply with your state’s licensing criteria. What you do not want to do is select a school just because it happens to be the closest to your residence or it has the lowest tuition. There are other significant qualifications that need to be considered along with cost and location. But before we cover what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we’ll address what a physical therapist does and the options for education.

What is a Physical Therapist’s Job Description?

physical therapist helping woman to walkPhysical therapists work in a variety of locations, such as hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and sports facilities. What the facilities all have in common is that they are equipped for the diagnosis and rehabilitation treatment of patients. As earlier mentioned, physical therapists help people that are suffering from a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to illness or injury. After diagnosing a patient, they create a program of treatment to address the mobility issues and reduce or eradicate any pain. They also endeavor to prevent any progression of the disability. Although the causes of disability requiring physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists work in close association with other health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They may also supervise several physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to take note of for anyone considering entering the physical therapy profession, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and stand, crouch and kneel for long periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degree Options

physical therapist working with man in poolThere are three physical therapist degree options offered for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the only degree that is available that allows a graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees emphasize either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or preparing them to advance to the doctoral level, such as the bachelor’s degree. Following are short descriptions of degrees that are available in your area:

  • Associate Degrees prepare students to become physical therapy assistants, or can be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are usually provided by community colleges, and take about 2 years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is usually a portion of the course of study.
  • Bachelor’s Degrees are created as pre-physical therapy training to ready candidates to progress to the doctoral level. While they are not required to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an integral first step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor’s degrees, they generally require four years to finish and often incorporate an internship program of at least 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are a requirement if you want to become a licensed practicing physical therapist. The degree program must also be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). In addition to the bachelor’s degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to finish, making the overall investment of time 7 years in the majority of cases. Clinical training is an important component in addition to the substantial lab and classroom instruction. Consequently the completion of an internship is required, not only for graduation but in some states for licensing also.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has taken the place of the Master’s of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been phased out and is no longer offered in the USA. A number of licensed physical therapists holding a master’s or even a bachelor’s degree were “grandfathered” in prior to the current licensing requirement for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapist Degrees Online

woman taking physical therapy courses onlineWhile not as prevalent as the on campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy programs available, more so at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on structure of the training, clinical lab work and internships are incorporated with the online classes. This requires that the student live close to the college campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. Fortunately, the online part of the course of study can be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student’s home. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in a number of instances more economical. Tuition can be somewhat lower than similar on campus alternatives, and costs for commuting are minimized. And many of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, guaranteeing a quality education. These advantages can make the online option the ideal choice for those students that are motivated enough to attend classes at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

By now you most likely have come to decision regarding several of your initial questions, including the kind of physical therapist degree you would like to earn, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much you can afford to invest in your education. But since there are numerous PT schools throughout your State, you’ll need to explore other qualifications also so as to further reduce your list of school choices. Furthermore, you need to be sure that you choose the program that is ideal for you. That’s the reason we have collected a list of essential questions that you need to ask the physical therapist schools you are reviewing. Ask each of the competing colleges these questions prior to making an ultimate selection.

Is the Physical Therapy College Accredited?¬† Find out if the schools you are looking at have earned accreditation from a national or a regional agency. As earlier stated, if you are pursuing a doctorate the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you select an online program, it can also earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It’s imperative that both the physical therapist school and program you select are accredited, not just the school. Also, make sure that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting agency. In addition to ensuring that you obtain an excellent education, accreditation might be mandated for state licensing and even for securing student loans or financial aid.

What is the Program’s Reputation? In addition to accreditation, it’s essential that the college and program you pick have excellent reputations within the physical therapist profession. There are a number of ways you can investigate a PT school’s reputation, starting with requesting references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also search for online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Get in touch with a few local physical therapy clinics or other health care facilities that you might be interested in working for and ask if they can give you any recommendations about your program selections. It might also be prudent to check with your State Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been filed against the schools.

What is the Program’s Job Placement Percentage? There are a couple of important statistics that you should find out about each of the physical therapist colleges you are looking at. First is their graduation rate. A lower rate might mean that students dropped out because of displeasure with the program, the instructors, or both. Once the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the assistance of the school’s job placement program, particularly in your area? If a college has a higher job placement rate, it’s an indication that its reputation within the healthcare field is good or even exceptional. It also affirms that the college has a broad network of contacts to help students obtain internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the School Support Licensing Requirements? It’s important that the school you choose provides both excellent training and a course of study that satisfies the licensing requirements for the State where you will be practicing. In every state a passing score is needed on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) as well as a degree from an accredited physical therapy college. Although licensing requirements vary state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental exams.

Are Internships Sponsored? Inquire if the physical therapy schools you are evaluating have associations with hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships a terrific manner to obtain practical training in a clinical setting, they are also a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they can help graduates and students develop professional relationships in the healthcare community and assist with obtaining employment once licensed.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the sort of student that prefers to sit far in the back of the classroom or hide in the crowd, you will undoubtedly prefer a smaller class size. Small classes enable more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are considering what the typical student to teacher ratio is for their classes. If practical you may want to sit in on one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you a chance to speak with a few of the students and instructors to get their opinions regarding the pharmacist technician program also.

Where is the College Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapy school they choose will have to be within commuting distance of their home. Those who have decided to attend online classes obviously will not have to worry themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of importance. Something to bear in mind is that if you choose to enroll in a program that is out of state or even out of your local area, you may be required to pay a higher tuition. State colleges normally charge a higher tuition for out of state residents. And community colleges usually charge a higher tuition for those students that don’t reside within their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Most DPT colleges provide some type of financial aid to their potential students. Ask if the colleges you are reviewing have a financial aid department and find out what kind of aid is obtainable. At a minimum they should help in acquiring a student loan or any scholarships you might qualify for. A number of physical therapy schools offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a college because the tuition is too expensive, find out what financial aid might be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you must verify that the physical therapy program you finally select can provide the class schedule you need. This is particularly important if you choose to continue working while you attend school. If you must schedule night or weekend classes in your area, check that they are offered. If you can only attend part-time, find out if that is an alternative and how many courses or credit hours you would have to enroll in. Also, ask what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss because of illness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Online Physical Therapy Schools

How To Get Into Physical Therapy School

Selecting the ideal physical therapist program is a necessary initial decision you have to make to start a gratifying career in the health care profession. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and school you select should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. But there are additional important questions that you need to ask regarding your college of choice also. As you begin your search for a physical therapy program keep in mind that a number of variables will guide you toward your ultimate decision. You may decide to go to different campuses to see their facilities and speak to active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this college help me accomplish my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By adhering to our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the appropriate selection. And with the proper education and training, you can fulfill your dream of becoming a licensed physical therapist.