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How to Find the Right Physical Therapy Training Program Near Gulf Shores Alabama

Gulf Shores Alabama physical therapist working with woman using exercise ballEarning a physical therapist degree near Gulf Shores AL is an important 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 injury or illness gain back function and mobility. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they must acquire the necessary training and education. A PT must also be licensed in every state, many requiring that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before selecting a physical therapy school, it's important to investigate the ones you are thinking about to make sure they will provide a quality education and comply with your state's licensing requirements. What you should not do is enroll in a college simply because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has cheapest tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that must be evaluated along with location and cost. But before we cover what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we'll address what a physical therapist does and what the educational options are.

What is a Physical Therapist?

Gulf Shores Alabama physical therapist helping female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in diverse locations, including Gulf Shores AL hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes 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 injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they design a program of treatment to resolve the mobility issues and lessen or eliminate any pain. They also try to stop any progression of the disability. While the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Car or motor cycle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Burn injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other Gulf Shores AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise several physical therapy assistants who work for them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to keep in mind for anyone thinking about going into the physical therapy field, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for extended periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degrees

Gulf Shores Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapy degrees available for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the single degree that is offered 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 short descriptions of degree levels that are available to prospective students in the Gulf Shores AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to become physical therapy assistants, or may 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 offered by community or junior colleges, and take about two years for completion. Clinical training, which may be in the form of an internship is usually part of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are developed as pre-physical therapist training to ready students to progress to the doctoral level. While they are not required to be a candidate for the doctoral program, they are an important preliminary step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they normally require four years to complete and commonly include an internship program of a minimum of 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are a requirement in order to become a licensed practicing physical therapist. The degree program also must 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 7 years in the majority of cases. Practical or clinical training is an essential element along with the extensive lab and classroom instruction. Consequently the completion of an internship is required, not only for graduation but in some 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 offered in the USA. Some licensed physical therapists having a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the current licensing mandate for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapy Online Schools

Gulf Shores Alabama woman taking physical therapist courses onlineWhile not as common as the on campus options, there are many accredited online physical therapy degrees available, more so at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on nature of the training, clinical lab work and internships are incorporated with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live near the school campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. However, the online segment of the curriculum can be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Gulf Shores AL home. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in many instances more economical. Tuition can be significantly lower than similar on-campus alternatives, and costs for commuting are reduced. And many of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, ensuring a quality education. These advantages may make the online option the ideal choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapy Colleges

At this point you probably have come to decision regarding some of your initial questions, including the kind of physical therapy degree you intend 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 schools within the Gulf Shores AL area and across Alabama, you'll have to explore other qualifications also in order to further reduce your list of school choices. Also, you want to be sure that you enroll in the college that is ideal for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of important questions that you must ask the physical therapist programs you are reviewing. Ask each of the potential schools these questions before making an ultimate selection.

Is the Physical Therapist School Accredited?  Find out if the schools you are reviewing have received accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As earlier mentioned, if you are pursuing a doctorate the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you enroll in an online school, 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 just the school. Additionally, verify that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. Besides 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 Reputation? In addition to accreditation, it's important that the school and program you pick have exceptional reputations within the physical therapy profession. There are multiple ways you can investigate a PT school's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they place their graduates with. You may also search for online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews also. Get in touch with a few Gulf Shores AL physical therapist centers or other health care facilities that you might have an interest in working for and ask if they can provide any insight about your school selections. It may also be a good idea to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been filed against the colleges.

What is the College's Job Placement Percentage? There are a two significant statistics that you should find out about each of the physical therapy schools you are looking at. One is their graduation rate. A low rate may suggest 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 college's job placement program, particularly in the Gulf Shores AL area? If a school has a high job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the health care community is good or perhaps outstanding. It also verifies that the program has a large network of contacts to help students obtain internships or jobs after graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's important that the program you choose furnishes both exceptional training and a course of study that supports the licensing requirements for Alabama or the state where you will be practicing. In each state a passing score is required on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapist college. Although licensing requirements fluctuate state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum number of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on additional tests.

Are Internships Sponsored? Ask if the physical therapy colleges you are assessing have associations with Gulf Shores AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Internships are not only a great manner to receive practical training in a clinical setting, they are also a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As a supplemental benefit, they may assist students and graduates establish professional connections in the Gulf Shores health care community and help with job placement after licensing.

What are the Class Sizes ? Unless you are the type of student that prefers to sit far in the back of the classroom or get lost in the crowd, you will likely want a smaller class size. Smaller classes allow for more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are reviewing what the typical student to teacher ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may want to monitor one or more classes before making your final decision. This will also give you a chance to converse 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 therapy school they select will need to be within commuting distance of their Gulf Shores AL residence. Individuals who have opted to attend online classes naturally will not have to concern themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area internships will be of importance. Something to consider is that if you decide to enroll in a program that is out of state or even out of your local area, you may be required to pay a higher tuition. State colleges commonly charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges normally charge a higher tuition for those students that live outside of their districts.

Is Financial Support Provided? Most DPT colleges offer some type of financial support to their prospective students. Inquire if the schools you are reviewing have a financial assistance office and see what kind of aid is obtainable. They at least should help in acquiring a student loan or any scholarships you might qualify for. A number of physical therapy schools provide scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a school because the tuition is too expensive, ask what financial aid may be available.

Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And last you must confirm that the physical therapy program you ultimately choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is particularly essential if you decide to continue working while attending school. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Gulf Shores AL area, verify that they are offered. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, check if that is an option and how many credit hours or courses you would have to enroll in. Also, learn what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss due to illness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Gulf Shores Physical Therapist Majors

Enroll in the Right Gulf Shores Physical Therapist School

Selecting the ideal physical therapist college is a necessary initial decision you have to make to start a rewarding career in the healthcare profession. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and school you pick should both have exceptional reputations and accreditation. However there are other relevant questions that you should ask regarding your school of choice as well. As you begin your search for a physical therapy program bear in mind that a number of factors will guide you toward your ultimate decision. You may decide to visit different colleges to view their facilities and talk to active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this school help me realize 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 options so you can make the best selection. And with the proper training and education, you can accomplish your dream of becoming a licensed physical therapist in Gulf Shores Alabama.


 

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