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How to Select the Right Physical Therapy College Near Birmingham Alabama

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist working with female patient holding balance ballReceiving a physical therapy degree near Birmingham AL is a critical first step to launching a rewarding career in the medical care industry. Physical therapists (PT) help people who have been debilitated as a result of illness or injury gain back function and mobility. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to acquire the necessary training and education. A PT must additionally become licensed in all states, many mandating that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So prior to selecting a physical therapy school, it's important to evaluate the ones you are looking at to make sure they will supply a superior education and satisfy your state's licensing standards. What you should not do is choose a college just because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has the most affordable tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that must be evaluated besides 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 what the educational options are.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Birmingham Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in diverse locations, such as Birmingham AL private practices, hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and health clubs. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for the diagnosis and rehabilitation treatment of patients. As earlier touched on, physical therapists help patients that are suffering from a lack of mobility and often pain due to injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they develop a program of treatment to address 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 abundant, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Burn injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Birmingham AL health professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, registered nurses and dentists. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work under them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. Something to take note of for anyone considering going into the physical therapy field, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists often lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Offered

Birmingham Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapy degrees offered for individuals to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the only degree that is available 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 preparing them to advance to the doctoral level. Following are short summaries of degrees that are available to prospective students in the Birmingham AL area:

  • Associate Degrees train students to become physical therapy assistants, or can be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are typically provided by junior or community colleges, and take about 2 years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is normally a portion of the course of study.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapist education to prepare candidates to move up to the doctoral level. Although they are not required to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an important preliminary step to becoming a PT. As with most bachelor's degrees, they normally require 4 years to complete and often 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 7 years in the majority of cases. Practical or clinical training is an intregal element in addition to the extensive classroom and lab instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is required, not solely for graduation but in several states for licensing also.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has taken the place of the Master's of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been eliminated and is no longer offered in the United States. Some practicing physical therapists holding a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the current licensing mandate for a doctorate was implemented.

Physical Therapist Programs Online

Birmingham Alabama woman taking physical therapy courses onlineAlthough not as common as the on campus alternatives, there are some accredited online physical therapist degrees available, even more at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on structure of the training, clinical lab work and internships are integrated with the online classes. This requires that the student live close to the college campus or in proximity of an available internship. Fortunately, the online segment of the program 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 cases more affordable. Tuition can be significantly lower than comparable on-campus options, and expenditures for commuting are minimized. And many of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, guaranteeing a quality education. These advantages may make the online alternative the best choice for those students that are disciplined enough to attend classes at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

At this point you most likely have come to decision concerning a few of your preliminary queries, including the kind of physical therapist degree you intend to earn, 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 colleges within the Birmingham AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll need to research additional qualifications also so as to further narrow your list of school choices. Furthermore, you need to be sure that you choose the program that is best for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of essential questions that you need to ask the physical therapy colleges you are thinking about. Ask each of the competing schools these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Ask if the programs you are considering have received accreditation from a regional or a national organization. As earlier 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 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. Also, make sure that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency. In addition to guaranteeing that you receive an excellent education, accreditation may be mandated for state licensing as well as for securing student loans or financial assistance.

What is the College's Standing? Along with accreditation, it's imperative that the school and program you select have exceptional reputations within the physical therapist community. There are several ways you can look into a PT school's reputation, starting with requesting 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. Get in touch with 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 insight about your school options. It may also be a good idea to check with the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to find out if any complaints have been filed against the colleges.

What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a couple of important statistics that you need to find out about each of the physical therapist colleges you are looking at. One is their graduation rate. A low rate might mean that students left because of dissatisfaction with the program, the instructors, or both. Once the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the assistance 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 medical care field is good or even excellent. It also verifies that the college has a wide network of contacts to assist students gain internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the School Support Licensing Requirements? It's important that the program you select furnishes both excellent training and a curriculum that satisfies the licensing criteria for Alabama or the state where you will be practicing. In each state a passing score is needed on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapist college. While licensing requirements vary state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental tests.

Are Internship Programs Offered? Find out if the physical therapy schools you are assessing have associations with Birmingham AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent manner to obtain hands on training in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As a supplemental benefit, they may help graduates and students develop professional connections in the Birmingham healthcare community and help with job placement after licensing.

How Large are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of person that likes to sit way in the rear of the classroom or hide in the crowd, you will undoubtedly want a smaller class size. Smaller classes permit more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are considering what the average 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 a chance to speak with several of the students and instructors to get their opinions regarding the physical therapist program as well.

Where is the College Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapist school they decide on will have to be within commuting distance of their Birmingham AL home. Individuals who have decided to attend classes online obviously will not have to worry themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area internships will be of importance. One thing to bear 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 need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges usually charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges generally charge a higher tuition to those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Aid Offered? The majority of DPT colleges offer some form of financial assistance to their potential students. Find out if the schools you are considering have a financial assistance department and see what type of assistance is offered. They at least should help in getting a student loan or any grants you may be eligible for. A number of physical therapist colleges offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a school because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial aid may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And last you must verify that the physical therapist school you finally select can furnish the class schedule you need. This is particularly essential if you decide to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule night or weekend classes in the Birmingham AL area, make sure that they are offered. If you can only attend part-time, check if that is an alternative and how many credit hours or courses you would need to carry. Also, ask what the protocol is for making up any classes that you may miss because of work, illness or family obligations.

Learn More About Birmingham Online Physical Therapist Schools

Enroll in the Right Birmingham Physical Therapy School

Picking the best physical therapy college is a necessary first decision you must make to start a gratifying career in the medical field. As we have covered in this article, the PT or DPT degree program and college you pick should both have exceptional reputations and be accredited. However there are additional critical questions that you should ask concerning your college of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapy program bear in mind that a number of factors will lead you to your final decision. You may want to visit different campuses to view their facilities and talk with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this program help me accomplish my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the best choice. And with the necessary training and education, you can fulfill your dream to become a practicing physical therapist in Birmingham Alabama.


 

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