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How to Find the Right Physical Therapist Program Near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with woman using exercise ballGetting a physical therapy degree near Birmingham AL is a critical first step to starting a fulfilling career in the health care industry. Physical therapists (PT) help people who have been debilitated as a result of injury or illness gain back function and mobility. But before they may legally 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 requiring that the licensee earn a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before choosing a physical therapy school, it's essential to investigate the ones you are looking at to make certain they will deliver a superior education and meet your state's licensing standards. What you should not do is select a college simply because it happens to be the nearest to your residence or it has the most affordable tuition. There are other important qualifications that need to be evaluated 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 Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists work in varying locations, such as Birmingham AL hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and sports facilities. What the facilities all have in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As earlier stated, physical therapists help people that are experiencing a lack of mobility and often pain due to illness or injury. After patient diagnosis, they develop a program of treatment to deal with the mobility issues and reduce or eliminate any pain. They also try to prevent any progression of the disability. Although the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Car or motor cycle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fire injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Birmingham AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also manage several physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to keep in mind for anyone considering going into the physical therapy field, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and stand, crouch and kneel for extended periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degrees Available

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapist degree options offered for students to enroll in at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the one degree that is attainable that qualifies the graduate to become a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees target either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or prepping them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief explanations of degrees that are offered to prospective students in the Birmingham AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to become physical therapy assistants, or can be the first step toward earning a more advanced degree. Applicants must have obtained a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The programs are typically made available by junior or community colleges, and require two years for completion. An internship or other form of clinical training is typically a portion of the course of study.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are created as pre-physical therapy education to ready students to move up to the doctoral level. Although they are not a requirement to be eligible for the doctoral program, they are an important initial step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they generally take four years to finish and often incorporate an internship program of a minimum of 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). In addition to the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to complete, making the overall commitment 7 years in most cases. Clinical or practical training is an important component in addition to the considerable lab and classroom instruction. Therefor the completion 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 phased out and is no longer available in the USA. A number of practicing physical therapists having a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapist Programs Online

Birmingham Alabama woman taking physical therapy courses onlineWhile not as prevalent as the more traditional options, there are some accredited online physical therapy degrees available, even more at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on nature of the training, internships and clinical lab work are incorporated with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live close to the school campus or nearby an available internship. However, the online portion of the course of study can be accessed within the comfort and convenience 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 may be significantly lower than comparable on campus alternatives, and expenses for commuting are minimized. And many of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, ensuring a quality education. These advantages may make the online alternative the best choice for those students that are disciplined enough to learn at home.

Subjects to Ask Physical Therapist Schools

By now you most likely have come to decision regarding several of your initial queries, such as the kind of physical therapy degree you would like to earn, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much you can afford to spend for your education. But since there are numerous PT schools within the Birmingham AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll need to look into other qualifications as well in order to further reduce your list of college choices. Moreover, you need to be sure that you enroll in the school that is best for you. That's the reason we have compiled a list of essential questions that you must ask the physical therapist programs you are considering. Ask all of the potential schools these questions before making a final selection.

Is the Physical Therapy School Accredited?  Find out if the colleges you are considering have earned accreditation from a national or a regional agency. As earlier 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 choose an online program, it may also earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's essential that both the physical therapist school and program you choose are accredited, not just the school. Additionally, verify that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization. Along with guaranteeing that you obtain a quality education, accreditation might be required for state licensing as well as for securing student loans or financial aid.

What is the College's Standing? In addition to accreditation, it's important that the school and program you pick have excellent reputations within the physical therapist community. There are a number of ways you can investigate a PT school's reputation, starting with requesting references from employers that they place their graduates with. You can also search for online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews as well. Contact some Birmingham AL physical therapy clinics or other health care facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can offer any recommendations about your school options. It might also be a good idea to contact 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 Percentage? There are a couple of relevant statistics that you should find out about each of the physical therapy programs you are looking at. One is their graduation rate. A lower rate might indicate that students dropped out due to dissatisfaction with the program, the instructors, or both. After the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the support of the college's job placement program, particularly in the Birmingham AL area? If a college has a higher job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the healthcare community is good or perhaps exceptional. It also affirms that the school has a broad network of contacts to assist students get internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's important that the college you select provides both excellent training and a curriculum that satisfies 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) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapy program. While licensing requirements fluctuate state by state for PT and PTA graduates, a number of states require a minimum number of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental exams.

Are Internship Programs Offered? Find out if the physical therapy programs you are evaluating have associations with Birmingham AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships a great way to get practical experience in a clinical environment, they are additionally a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As a secondary benefit, they can help students and graduates establish professional connections in the Birmingham medical community and assist with obtaining employment once licensed.

How Big are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of student that likes to sit way in the rear of the classroom or get lost in the crowd, you will probably want a smaller class size. Small classes allow for 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 classrooms. If practical you may prefer to monitor one or more classes before making your final determination. This will also give you an opportunity to converse with several of the students and instructors to get their opinions regarding the physical therapist program also.

Where is the College Located? For many students, the physical therapist school they decide on will need to be within driving distance of their Birmingham AL residence. Those who have chosen to attend online classes 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 decide to enroll in a college that is out of state or even out of your local area, you may need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges generally charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges frequently charge a higher tuition to those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Provided? The majority of DPT colleges supply some type of financial assistance to their prospective students. Find out if the schools you are examining have a financial aid office and see what type of help is available. They at least should help in securing a student loan or any grants you might qualify for. Some physical therapy schools offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a college because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial assistance might be available.

Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And last you need to confirm that the physical therapy program you finally select can provide the class schedule you need. This is especially essential if you opt to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Birmingham AL area, make certain that they are available. If you can only attend part-time, check if that is an alternative and how many courses or credit hours you would need to carry. Also, find out what the protocol is for making up any classes that you may miss as a result of illness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Birmingham Online Physical Therapy Courses

Enroll in the Right Birmingham Physical Therapy School

Selecting the best physical therapist college is an important first decision you must make to start a gratifying career in the health care profession. As we have addressed in this article, the PT or DPT degree program and college you enroll in should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. But there are additional relevant questions that you need to ask regarding your school of choice as well. As you commence your search for a physical therapist college bear in mind that numerous factors will guide you toward your ultimate decision. You might decide to go to each of the colleges to view their facilities and talk with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this college help me reach 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 field so you can make the ideal choice. And with the necessary education and training, you can fulfill your dream to become a practicing physical therapist in Birmingham Alabama.


 

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