How to Pick the Right Physical Therapist School Near Decatur Alabama
Earning a physical therapy degree near Decatur AL is a critical first step to beginning a fulfilling career in the medical care industry. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been debilitated as a result of illness or injury regain function and mobility. But before they can practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they must obtain the appropriate training and education. A PT must also become licensed in all states, a large number mandating that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before selecting a physical therapy school, it's important to research the ones you are thinking about to make sure they will deliver a superior education and satisfy your state's licensing requirements. What you should not do is choose a school just because it happens to be the closest to your home or it has the most affordable tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that need to be considered along with cost and location. But before we cover 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 is a Physical Therapist's Job Description?
Physical therapists work in varying settings, such as Decatur AL hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and sports facilities. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As earlier touched on, physical therapists help patients that are struggling with a lack of mobility and often pain due to illness or injury. After patient diagnosis, they design a program of treatment to address the mobility problems and reduce or eliminate any pain. They also try to prevent any advancement of the disability. Though the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:
- Arthritis or Osteoporosis
- Car or motor cycle accidents
- Heart attacks
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Burn injuries
- Knee Replacement
- Multiple Sclerosis
Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other Decatur AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, registered nurses and dentists. They may also oversee one or more physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. Something to bear in mind for anyone considering entering the physical therapy field, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists often lift patients and heavy equipment, and kneel, crouch and stand for long periods of time on a daily basis.
Physical Therapy Degrees
There are three physical therapy degrees available for individuals to enroll in at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Of these alternatives, the single degree that is offered that qualifies the graduate to become a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees concentrate on either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or preparing them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief summaries of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Decatur AL area:
- Associate Degrees train students to practice as physical therapy assistants, or may be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Applicants must have earned a high school diploma or GED to be accepted for enrollment. The programs are most often made available by community colleges, and take about 2 years to complete. Clinical training, which may be in the form of an internship is usually a component of the curriculum.
- Bachelor's Degrees are developed as pre-physical therapy education 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 initial step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they generally take four years to finish and often include an internship program of at least 500 hours.
- Doctorate Degrees are required if you want to become a practicing licensed 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 investment of time seven years in most cases. Practical or clinical training is an intregal component in addition to the substantial classroom and lab instruction. Consequently the completion of an internship is required, 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 eliminated and is no longer attainable in the USA. A number of licensed physical therapists holding a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the existing licensing mandate for a doctorate was implemented.
Physical Therapist Programs Online
While not as prevalent as the on campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy degrees offered, more so at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on nature 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 nearby a sponsored internship. Fortunately, the online segment of the program may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Decatur AL residence. Online programs are not only to some extent more accessible, but in many instances more affordable. Tuition can be significantly less than similar 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 option the right choice for those students that are disciplined enough to learn at home.
What to Ask Physical Therapist Colleges
By now you probably have made a decision concerning several of your initial queries, like the kind of physical therapist degree you want to attain, where you want to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to invest in your education. But because there are numerous PT colleges within the Decatur AL area and across Alabama, you'll need to research other qualifications as well in order to further reduce your list of school options. Also, you need to make sure that you pick the school that is best for you. That's why we have collected a list of important questions that you need to ask the physical therapy programs you are thinking about. Ask each of the competing schools these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.
Is the Physical Therapy College Accredited? Ask if the programs you are looking at 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 choose an online college, it may also earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's imperative that both the physical therapist program and school you choose are accredited, not simply the school. Additionally, check that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization. Besides ensuring that you obtain an excellent education, accreditation might be required for state licensing as well as for getting student loans or financial aid.
What is the College's Ranking? Along with accreditation, it's imperative that the college and program you choose have excellent reputations within the physical therapy community. There are a number of ways you can look into a PT program's reputation, beginning with asking for references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also check online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews as well. Contact several Decatur AL physical therapist clinics or other medical care facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can give you any insight about your program selections. It may also be prudent 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 couple of significant statistics that you should find out about each of the physical therapy programs you are looking at. One is their graduation rate. A low rate may mean that students dropped out because of 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 college's job placement program, particularly in the Decatur AL area? If a school has a higher job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the medical care community is good or even outstanding. It also verifies that the program has a wide network of contacts to assist students gain internships or employment after graduation.
Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's essential that the school you choose provides both excellent training and a curriculum that satisfies the licensing requirements 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 therapist college. Although licensing requirements differ state by state for PT and PTA graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be performed and passing scores on additional exams.
Are Internships Offered? Find out if the physical therapist programs you are reviewing have relationships with Decatur AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships a great manner to obtain practical training in a clinical setting, they are also a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they may help graduates and students establish professional relationships in the Decatur healthcare community and help with job placement after licensing.
How Big are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of student that likes to sit way in the back of the classroom or get lost in the crowd, you will undoubtedly want a small class size. Small classes allow for more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are looking at what the typical teacher to student ratio is for their classes. If practical you may prefer to sit in on one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you an opportunity to speak with some of the students and instructors to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapy program also.
Where is the School Located? For many students, the physical therapy college they decide on will have to be within driving distance of their Decatur AL residence. Those who have decided to attend classes online naturally will not have to concern 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 decide to enroll in a program 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 usually charge a higher tuition to those students that live outside of their districts.
Is Financial Aid Offered? The majority of DPT colleges supply some type of financial assistance to their potential students. Find out if the schools you are reviewing have a financial aid office and find out what kind of aid is obtainable. At a minimum they should help in acquiring a student loan or any scholarships you may be eligible for. Some physical therapy colleges offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before you eliminate a program because the tuition is too expensive, ask what financial assistance may be available.
Can the School Accommodate your Schedule? And last you must confirm that the physical therapy school you ultimately choose can furnish the class schedule you need. This is especially essential if you choose to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Decatur AL area, make certain that they are offered. If you can only attend part-time, verify if that is an option 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 because of work, illness or family obligations.
Enroll in the Right Decatur Physical Therapy School
Selecting the ideal physical therapy program is an important initial decision you need to make to launch a fulfilling career in the healthcare profession. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you choose should both have exceptional reputations and be accredited. But there are other relevant questions that you need to ask concerning your school of choice as well. As you commence your search for a physical therapist school keep in mind that a number of factors will lead you toward your final decision. You might decide to go to each of the colleges to view their facilities and speak to current 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 additional questions, you will be able to narrow down the options so you can make the best choice. And with the proper training and education, you can accomplish your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Decatur Alabama.