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How to Enroll In the Right Physical Therapist Course Near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with female patient using exercise ballReceiving a physical therapy degree near Birmingham AL is an important first step to beginning a fulfilling career in the health care field. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been disabled as a result of injury or illness gain back mobility and function. But before they can practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they need to receive the necessary training and education. A PT must also be licensed in all states, many requiring that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So prior to enrolling in a physical therapy school, it's important to evaluate those you are considering to make certain they will supply a superior education and comply with your state's licensing requirements. What you do not want to do is select a college just because it happens to be the closest to your residence or it has cheapest tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that must be evaluated along with cost and location. But before we cover what those qualifications are and the questions you should be asking, we'll cover what a physical therapist does and the options for education.

What is a Physical Therapist's Job Description?

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist helping female patient to walk

Physical therapists work in varying settings, such as Birmingham AL hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and health clubs. What the facilities all have in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As earlier mentioned, physical therapists help people that are struggling with a lack of mobility and in many cases pain caused by injury or illness. After diagnosing a patient, they develop a course of treatment to deal with the mobility issues and lessen or eliminate any pain. They also strive to prevent any advancement of the disability. Although the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Car or motor cycle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other Birmingham AL medical professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work for them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. One thing to take note of for anyone thinking about entering the physical therapy field, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists often lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and kneel, crouch and stand for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Offered

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with patient in pool

There are three physical therapy degree options available for individuals to enroll in at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the only 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 preparing them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief explanations of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Birmingham AL area:

  • Associate Degrees train students to be physical therapy assistants, or can be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Candidates must have earned a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are typically offered by community colleges, and take about two years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is normally a component of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are developed as pre-physical therapist training to prepare candidates to move up to the doctoral level. While they are not a requirement to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an essential initial step to becoming a PT. As with most bachelor's degrees, they typically take four years to finish and commonly include an internship program of at least 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are required in order to become a licensed practicing physical therapist. The degree program must also 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 total commitment seven years in most cases. Clinical or practical training is an intregal element in addition to the extensive lab and classroom instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is mandated, not solely for graduation but in some states for licensing also.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has replaced the Master's of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been eliminated and is no longer attainable in the United States. A number of licensed physical therapists having a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapist Programs Online

Birmingham Alabama woman taking physical therapy classes onlineWhile not as common as the on campus alternatives, there are some accredited online physical therapist degrees 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 near the college campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. However, the online part of the course of study may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Birmingham AL residence. Online schools are not only to some extent more accessible, but in a number of instances more affordable. Tuition can be significantly lower than comparable on-campus options, and expenditures for commuting are minimized. And a number of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These benefits may make the online option the ideal choice for those students that are motivated enough to learn at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

At this point you undoubtedly have come to decision regarding some of your preliminary queries, such as the type of physical therapy degree you intend to obtain, where you prefer 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 throughout Alabama, you'll need to research additional qualifications as well so as to further narrow your list of school options. Moreover, you need to make sure that you choose the college that is right for you. That's why we have collected a list of critical questions that you need to ask the physical therapy colleges you are reviewing. Ask each of the potential colleges these questions before making an ultimate decision.

Is the Physical Therapy School Accredited?  Find out if the schools you are reviewing have received accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As previously mentioned, if you are pursuing a doctoral degree the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you enroll in an online program, it may also earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapy program and school you enroll in are accredited, not just the school. Also, verify that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. In addition to ensuring that you receive a quality education, accreditation may be mandated for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the School's Standing? In addition to accreditation, it's important that the college and program you select have exceptional reputations within the physical therapy community. There are multiple ways you can investigate a PT program's reputation, beginning with requesting references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also check online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews also. Call several Birmingham AL physical therapy centers or other medical care facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can provide any insight about your college selections. 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 colleges.

What is the School's Job Placement Rate? There are a two important statistics that you should know about all of the physical therapist programs you are reviewing. One is their graduation rate. A low rate may mean that students dropped out due to displeasure with the program, the instructors, or both. After the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the help of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Birmingham AL area? If a college has a high job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the healthcare community is good or perhaps excellent. It also confirms that the school has a large network of contacts to help students get internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the Program Prepare You For Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the program you select provides both excellent training and a course of study that supports the licensing criteria for Alabama or the state where you will be working. In each state a passing score is required on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) as well as a degree from an accredited physical therapist college. While licensing requirements vary state by state for PT and PTA graduates, many states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be performed as well as passing scores on additional tests.

Are Internship Programs Offered? Inquire if the physical therapist programs you are interested in have partnerships with Birmingham AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships a terrific manner to obtain practical experience in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a supplemental benefit, they may help students and graduates establish professional connections in the Birmingham medical community and assist with job placement after licensing.

How Large are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind 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. Smaller classes permit more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapy schools you are researching 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 final determination. This will also give you a chance to speak with some of the students and instructors to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapy program as well.

Where is the Program Located? For a number of students, the physical therapist school they decide on will need to be within travelling distance of their Birmingham AL residence. Individuals who have opted to attend classes online naturally will not have to trouble 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 might have to pay a higher tuition. State colleges generally charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges often charge a higher tuition to those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Most DPT schools offer some form of financial aid to their potential students. Inquire if the colleges you are reviewing have a financial assistance office and see what type of help is available. At a minimum they should help in acquiring a student loan or any grants you may qualify for. Some physical therapy schools provide scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a school because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial assistance may be available.

Can the School Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you must verify that the physical therapy program you ultimately choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is especially crucial if you choose to continue working while attending classes. If you need to schedule evening or weekend classes in the Birmingham AL area, confirm that they are available. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, find out if that is an alternative and how many courses or credit hours you would need to carry. Also, find out what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss as a result of illness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Birmingham Physical Therapist Degrees

Enroll in the Right Birmingham Physical Therapist School

Deciding on the best physical therapist school is an important first decision you have to make to launch a rewarding career in the health care profession. As we have addressed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and school you pick should both have excellent reputations and be accredited. But there are other relevant questions that you should ask pertaining to your college of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapy college keep in mind that numerous factors will lead you to your ultimate decision. You might decide to go to each of the campuses to view their facilities and speak to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this school help me achieve my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By adhering to our list of additional questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the ideal selection. And with the necessary training and education, you can achieve your dream of becoming a licensed physical therapist in Birmingham Alabama.


 

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