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How to Select the Right Physical Therapist Degree Program Near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with woman holding exercise ballEarning a physical therapist degree near Birmingham AL is a critical first step to starting a rewarding career in the medical care field. Physical therapists (PT) help people who have been incapacitated as a result of injury or illness gain back mobility and function. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to get the proper education and training. A PT must also be licensed in every state, a large number mandating that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So before enrolling in a physical therapy school, it's important to research those you are considering to make certain they will provide a quality education and satisfy your state's licensing requirements. What you do not want to do is enroll in a school simply because it happens to be the closest to your residence or it has the most affordable tuition. There are other important qualifications that need to be considered along with cost and location. 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?

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist assisting woman to walk

Physical therapists practice in varying locations, including Birmingham AL private practices, hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehab centers 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 patients that are suffering from a lack of mobility and often pain caused by injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they develop a course of treatment to deal with the mobility problems and reduce or eliminate any pain. They also strive to stop any advancement of the disability. Although the causes of disability requiring physical therapy are numerous, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fire injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists work in close association with other Birmingham AL medical professionals, including doctors, chiropractors, dentists and nurses. They may also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work for them in diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to take note of for anyone thinking about entering the physical therapy profession, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift patients and heavy equipment, and kneel, crouch and stand for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Offered

Birmingham Alabama DPT working with man in pool

There are three physical therapy degrees available for individuals to enroll in at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these choices, the only degree that is attainable that qualifies the graduate to become a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees focus on either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or readying them to progress to the doctoral level. Following are brief descriptions of degrees that are offered to prospective students in the Birmingham AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to be physical therapy assistants, or may be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are typically made available by community colleges, and require two years for completion. An internship or other form of clinical training is usually part of the course of study.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapist training to prep students to advance to the doctoral level. Although they are not a requirement to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an integral first step to becoming a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they typically require 4 years to complete and commonly include 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 3 years to finish, making the total commitment 7 years in the majority of cases. Clinical or practical training is an intregal element along with the considerable lab and classroom instruction. Therefor the completion of an internship is required, not solely for graduation but in a number of states for licensing also.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has replaced the Master's of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been phased out and is no longer available in the United States. A number of licensed physical therapists holding a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the existing licensing mandate for a doctorate was implemented.

Physical Therapist Colleges Online

Birmingham Alabama woman taking physical therapy classes onlineAlthough not as prevalent as the on-campus alternatives, there are many accredited online physical therapist degrees available, even more at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on nature of the training, clinical lab work and internships are combined with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live close to the college campus or nearby an available internship. However, the online segment of the program can be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Birmingham AL residence. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in many cases more economical. Tuition may be somewhat lower than comparable on-campus options, and expenses for commuting are minimized. And a number of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, guaranteeing a quality education. These benefits may make the online option the ideal choice for those students that are motivated enough to attend classes at home.

Topics to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

By now you most likely have come to decision concerning several of your initial queries, including the type of physical therapy degree you want to attain, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to spend for your education. But because there are numerous PT schools within the Birmingham AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll have to look into additional qualifications also in order to further reduce your list of school options. Moreover, you need to be sure that you pick the college that is ideal for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of essential questions that you must ask the physical therapist schools you are thinking about. Ask each of the competing schools these questions before making a final selection.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Ask if the programs you are reviewing have earned accreditation from a regional or a national organization. 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 program, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's imperative that both the physical therapist program and school you enroll in are accredited, not just the school. Additionally, make sure that the accreditation is through 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 as well as for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the Program's Ranking? In addition to accreditation, it's important that the college and program you pick have outstanding reputations within the physical therapist profession. There are a number of ways you can research a PT program's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they refer their students to. You may also search for online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews also. Contact some Birmingham AL physical therapist centers or other healthcare facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can give you any insight about your college selections. It might also be a good idea to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been submitted against the schools.

What is the College's Job Placement Percentage? There are a two useful statistics that you need to know about all of the physical therapist colleges you are reviewing. First is their graduation rate. A lower rate might indicate that students dropped out due to dissatisfaction 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 college has a higher job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the healthcare field is good or even exceptional. It also confirms that the program has a wide network of contacts to assist students get internships or employment after graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's essential that the school you enroll in provides both excellent training and a course of study that supports the licensing criteria for Alabama or the state where you will be practicing. In every state a passing score is needed on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapy college. While licensing requirements fluctuate state by state for PT and PTA graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be performed and passing scores on supplemental tests.

Are Internships Provided? Find out if the physical therapist programs you are interested in have partnerships with Birmingham AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Internships are not only a great means to obtain practical training in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As a secondary benefit, they can assist graduates and students develop professional relationships in the Birmingham medical community and assist with obtaining employment once licensed.

What are the Class Sizes ? Unless you are the kind of student that likes to sit far in the rear of the classroom or hide in the crowd, you will probably prefer a smaller class size. Smaller classes permit more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are reviewing what the average teacher to student ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may prefer to monitor one or more classes before making your final 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 as well.

Where is the School Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapist school they decide on will need to be within commuting distance of their Birmingham AL residence. Those who have opted to attend classes online obviously 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 choose to enroll in a school that is out of state or even out of your local area, you might need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges commonly charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges often charge a higher tuition for those students that live outside of their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Most DPT colleges provide some type of financial aid to their prospective students. Find out if the schools you are considering have a financial assistance office and find out what kind of aid is obtainable. At a minimum they should help in getting a student loan or any grants you may qualify for. A number of physical therapist schools offer scholarships, while others provide work programs. So before eliminating a program because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial assistance may be available.

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

Find Out More About Birmingham Physical Therapy Training

Enroll in the Best Birmingham Physical Therapy School

Choosing the right physical therapist college is a necessary initial decision you need to make to begin a fulfilling career in the medical field. As we have covered in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you enroll in should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. But there are other critical questions that you need to ask regarding your college of choice as well. As you begin your search for a physical therapy school keep in mind that numerous factors will guide you toward your ultimate decision. You may decide to visit different campuses to see their facilities and speak to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this college help me achieve my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the best selection. And with the proper education and training, you can fulfill your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Birmingham Alabama.


 

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