How to Choose the Right Physical Therapist Training Program Near Birmingham Alabama
Getting a physical therapy degree near Birmingham AL is an essential first step to starting a rewarding career in the health care field. Physical therapists (PT) help people who have been disabled as a result of illness or injury regain mobility and function. But before they can practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they need to get the necessary education and training. A PT must also become licensed in every state, many mandating that the licensee earn a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So before choosing a physical therapy school, it's important to evaluate those you are thinking about to make certain they will provide a superior education and meet your state's licensing requirements. What you should not do is select a college simply because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has cheapest tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that must be considered besides location and cost. But before we discuss what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we'll cover what a physical therapist does and the options for education.
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists work in varying locations, such as Birmingham AL private practices, hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and health clubs. What the facilities all have in common is that they have the equipment for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously stated, physical therapists help people that are struggling with a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to illness or injury. After patient diagnosis, they create a program of treatment to resolve the mobility issues and reduce or eradicate any pain. They also try to stop any progression of the disability. Though the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:
- Osteoporosis and Arthritis
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Head injuries
- Heart attacks
- Sports injuries
- Fire injuries
- Knee Replacement
- Multiple Sclerosis
Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other Birmingham AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work for them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to bear in mind for anyone considering entering the physical therapy profession, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for long periods of time on a daily basis.
Physical Therapist Degrees
There are 3 physical therapist degrees offered for students to enroll in at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these alternatives, the one degree that is attainable that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees concentrate on either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or readying them to advance to the doctoral level. Below are brief explanations of degrees that are offered to prospective students in the Birmingham AL area:
- Associate Degrees train students to be physical therapy assistants, or may be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Candidates must have earned a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are usually offered by community colleges, and require 2 years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is usually a component of the program.
- Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapy training to prepare students to move up to the doctoral level. Although they are not a requirement to be eligible for the doctoral program, they are an essential first step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they generally require four years to finish and commonly incorporate an internship program of a minimum of 500 hours.
- Doctorate Degrees are required 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). In addition to the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes three years to complete, making the overall investment of time seven years in most cases. Practical or clinical training is an important component along with the substantial lab and classroom instruction. Consequently the fulfillment of an internship is mandated, not only 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 phased out and is no longer attainable in the United States. Some practicing physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the current licensing requirement for a doctorate was implemented.
Physical Therapy Online Degrees
Although not as prevalent as the more traditional alternatives, there are many accredited online physical therapy degrees available, even more at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on nature of the training, clinical lab work and internships are incorporated with the online classes. This requires that the student live close to the school campus or nearby an available internship. Fortunately, the online segment of the curriculum may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Birmingham AL residence. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in many cases more affordable. Tuition can be significantly less than similar on campus options, and costs for commuting are reduced. And a number of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These advantages can make the online option the right choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.
Questions to Ask Physical Therapist Schools
By now you probably have made a decision concerning several of your preliminary questions, such as the type of physical therapist degree you would like to attain, where you want to attend classes, and how much you can afford to spend for your education. But considering there are so many PT colleges within the Birmingham AL area and across Alabama, you'll need to research other qualifications as well so as to further narrow your list of college options. Moreover, you want to be sure that you select the school that is best for you. That's why we have put together a list of important questions that you need to ask the physical therapist programs you are reviewing. Ask all of the competing colleges these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.
Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited? Find out if the colleges you are considering 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 may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's imperative that both the physical therapy program and school you select are accredited, not just the school. Also, make sure that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization. In addition to guaranteeing that you obtain a quality education, accreditation might be required for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial aid.
What is the College's Reputation? Along with accreditation, it's important that the school and program you choose have outstanding reputations within the physical therapist community. There are several ways you can research a PT school's reputation, beginning with asking for references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also search for online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews also. Contact several Birmingham AL physical therapist centers or other medical care facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can offer any advice about your college options. It might also be a good idea to check with the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to find out if any complaints have been submitted against the schools.
What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a two relevant statistics that you should know about each of the physical therapy colleges you are considering. First is their graduation rate. A lower rate may mean that students left due to displeasure with the program, the instructors, or both. Once the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being hired with the assistance of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Birmingham AL area? If a program has a higher job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the medical care field is good or even excellent. It also confirms that the school has a broad network of contacts to assist students obtain internships or jobs upon graduation.
Does the College Prepare You For Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the program you choose provides both exceptional training and a curriculum that supports the licensing criteria 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) as well as a degree from an accredited physical therapy school. Although licensing requirements differ state by state for PT and PTA graduates, some states require a minimum number of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on additional tests.
Are Internships Offered? Ask if the physical therapist programs you are assessing have associations with Birmingham AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent way to get hands on experience in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a secondary benefit, they can assist students and graduates develop professional relationships in the Birmingham health care community and help with obtaining employment after licensing.
How Big are the Classes ? Unless you are the sort of person that prefers to sit far in the rear of class or hide in the crowd, you will probably prefer a small class size. Smaller classes enable more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are looking at what the typical teacher to student ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may want to monitor one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you an opportunity to converse with a few of the students and instructors to get their opinions regarding the physical therapist program as well.
Where is the Program Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapy school they select will have to be within travelling distance of their Birmingham AL residence. Those who have opted to attend online classes obviously will not have to concern themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of concern. One thing to keep in mind is that if you choose to enroll in a school that is out of state or perhaps out of your local area, you may be required to pay a higher tuition. State colleges commonly charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges frequently charge a higher tuition to those students that live outside of their districts.
Is Financial Support Provided? Most DPT colleges offer some type of financial aid to their prospective students. Ask if the colleges you are reviewing have a financial assistance office and find out what kind of aid is available. At a minimum they should help in getting a student loan or any grants you may qualify for. Some physical therapy schools offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before you eliminate a school because the tuition is too expensive, find out what financial assistance might be available.
Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you must verify that the physical therapy college you finally choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is especially crucial if you choose to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule night or weekend classes in the Birmingham AL area, verify that they are offered. If you can only attend part-time, check if that is an option and how many courses or credit hours you would need to carry. Also, learn what the procedure is for making up any classes that you might miss because of work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Right Birmingham Physical Therapy School
Selecting the best physical therapist program is an important first decision you need to make to launch a rewarding career in the healthcare profession. As we have addressed in this article, the PT or DPT degree program and school you decide on should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. But there are other relevant questions that you should ask regarding your college of choice also. As you commence your search for a physical therapy school bear in mind that numerous variables will lead you to your ultimate decision. You may decide to visit each of the campuses to view their facilities and talk with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this program help me achieve my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By adhering to our list of supplemental questions, you will have the ability to narrow down the options so you can make the appropriate choice. And with the proper education and training, you can achieve your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Birmingham Alabama.