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How to Pick the Right Physical Therapy School Near Athens Alabama

Athens Alabama physical therapist working with female patient using balance ballGetting a physical therapy degree near Athens AL is an essential first step to launching a fulfilling career in the healthcare field. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been debilitated due to injury or illness regain function and mobility. But before they may legally practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they need to acquire the proper education and training. A PT must additionally become licensed in all states, a large number mandating that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So before choosing a physical therapy school, it's necessary to research those you are considering to make sure they will deliver a superior education and satisfy your state's licensing requirements. What you should not do is enroll in a school simply because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has cheapest tuition. There are other important qualifications that must be evaluated in addition to cost and location. But before we cover what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we'll cover what a physical therapist does and what the educational options are.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Athens Alabama physical therapist helping female patient to walk

Physical therapists work in a variety of settings, including Athens AL hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and health clubs. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously touched on, physical therapists help individuals that are experiencing a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to illness or injury. After diagnosing a patient, they create a course of treatment to resolve the mobility problems and lessen or eradicate any pain. They also strive to prevent any advancement of the disability. While the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Car or motor cycle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Burn injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists practice in close partnerships with other Athens AL health professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. One thing to bear in mind for anyone thinking about entering the physical therapy field, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and kneel, crouch and stand for long periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degrees Offered

Athens Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are three physical therapy degrees offered for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these alternatives, the only degree that is offered that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees concentrate on either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or prepping them to progress to the doctoral level. Following are short explanations of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Athens AL area:

  • Associate Degrees prepare students to practice as physical therapy assistants, or may be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED to be accepted for enrollment. The degrees are typically made available by community colleges, and take about 2 years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is typically part of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are developed as pre-physical therapy education to ready candidates to move up to the doctoral level. While they are not a requirement to be a candidate for the doctoral program, they are an important preliminary step to practicing as a PT. Similar to most bachelor's degrees, they normally 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 also must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). After earning the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to complete, making the overall investment of time seven years in most cases. Practical or clinical training is an essential element in addition to the considerable classroom and lab instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in several states for licensing as well.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has replaced the Master's of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been eliminated and is no longer offered in the United States. A number of practicing physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was implemented.

Physical Therapist Online Degrees

Athens Alabama female student taking physical therapist courses onlineWhile not as common as the on-campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy degrees offered, more so at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on structure of the training, clinical lab work and internships are combined with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live near the college campus or nearby a sponsored internship. However, the online segment of the curriculum can be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Athens AL home. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in a number of instances more economical. Tuition may be significantly lower than comparable on-campus alternatives, and costs for commuting are reduced. And a number of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, ensuring a quality education. These advantages can make the online alternative the ideal choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

Topics to Ask Physical Therapy Schools

At this point you most likely have made a decision concerning several of your preliminary questions, including the kind of physical therapy degree you intend to obtain, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to spend for your education. But since there are so many PT schools within the Athens AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll need to look into other qualifications also in order to further narrow your list of school choices. Also, you need to make certain that you select the program that is ideal for you. That's the reason we have compiled a list of critical questions that you need to ask the physical therapist programs you are thinking about. Ask all of the potential colleges these questions prior to making a final selection.

Is the Physical Therapy College Accredited?  Find out if the schools you are considering have received accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As previously stated, if you are pursuing a doctoral degree the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you select an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapist school and program you select are accredited, not simply the school. Additionally, check that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. Besides ensuring that you obtain a quality education, accreditation might be mandated for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the School's Standing? Along with accreditation, it's important that the college and program you select have outstanding reputations within the physical therapy community. There are several ways you can research a PT college's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they place their graduates with. You may also search for online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews as well. Call some Athens AL physical therapist centers or other medical care facilities that you might have an interest in working for and ask if they can offer any recommendations about your program selections. It may also be prudent to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been submitted against the schools.

What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a two significant statistics that you should find out about all of the physical therapy programs you are looking at. First is their graduation rate. A low rate might indicate that students dropped out because of dissatisfaction with the program, the teachers, or both. Once the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being placed in jobs with the help of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Athens AL area? If a college has a high job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the healthcare field is good or even excellent. It also verifies that the program has a wide network of contacts to help students obtain internships or employment after graduation.

Does the School Prepare You For Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the school you choose furnishes both exceptional training and a course of study that satisfies the licensing requirements for Alabama or the state where you will be practicing. In each state a passing score is required on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) along with a degree from an accredited physical therapy program. Although licensing requirements vary state by state for PTA and PT graduates, many states require a minimum number of clinical hours be performed as well as passing scores on additional tests.

Are Internship Programs Sponsored? Inquire if the physical therapist schools you are reviewing have associations with Athens AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships a great way to get hands on experience in a clinical environment, they are also a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a secondary benefit, they can help students and graduates establish professional relationships in the Athens medical community and assist with obtaining employment after licensing.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of student that likes to sit way in the rear of class or get lost in the crowd, you will probably prefer a small class size. Smaller classes allow for more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are researching what the typical student to teacher ratio is for their classes. If practical you may want to monitor one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you a chance to converse with a few of the instructors and students to get their opinions regarding the physical therapy program also.

Where is the College Located? For many students, the physical therapist school they decide on will need to be within commuting distance of their Athens AL home. Individuals who have decided to attend classes online naturally will not have to trouble themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area internships will be of importance. One thing to keep in mind is that if you decide to enroll in a program that is out of state or perhaps out of your local area, you may need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges usually charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges typically charge a higher tuition for those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Aid Offered? The majority of DPT colleges supply some form of financial aid to their potential students. Find out if the colleges you are looking at have a financial aid office and see what kind of assistance is offered. They at least should help in acquiring a student loan or any grants you might be eligible for. Some physical therapy colleges offer scholarships, while others provide work programs. So before eliminating a program because the tuition is too expensive, find out what financial aid might be available.

Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And last you need to verify that the physical therapist program you finally select can furnish the class schedule you need. This is particularly crucial if you choose to continue working while you attend classes. If you must schedule night or weekend classes in the Athens AL area, check that they are offered. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, verify if that is an option and how many credit hours or courses you would need to carry. Also, learn what the procedure is for making up any classes that you might miss because of illness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Athens Online Physical Therapist Degrees

Choose the Best Athens Physical Therapist School

Picking the ideal physical therapy program is a necessary first decision you need to make to begin a rewarding career in the healthcare field. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you pick should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. However there are additional important questions that you need to ask pertaining to your college of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapy school bear in mind that a number of variables will lead you to your final decision. You might decide to go to each of the campuses to view their facilities and speak with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this college help me realize my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will have the ability to narrow down the field so you can make the right choice. And with the proper training and education, you can accomplish your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Athens Alabama.


 

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