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How to Select the Right Physical Therapy College Near Helena Alabama

Helena Alabama physical therapist working with female patient holding balance ballObtaining a physical therapy degree near Helena AL is an important first step to starting a fulfilling career in the medical care field. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been incapacitated due to illness or injury regain function and mobility. But before they may legally practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they need to acquire the proper training and education. A PT must also be licensed in every state, a large number requiring that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before selecting a physical therapy school, it's essential to research the ones you are thinking about to ensure they will supply a quality education and satisfy your state's licensing criteria. 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 significant qualifications that need to be evaluated in addition to cost and location. But before we cover what those qualifications are and the questions you should be asking, we'll cover what a physical therapist does and what the educational options are.

What Do Physical Therapists Do?

Helena Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists work in diverse locations, including Helena AL hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and health clubs. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As earlier stated, physical therapists help people that are struggling with a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to injury or illness. After diagnosing a patient, they create a program of treatment to deal with the mobility problems and lessen or eradicate any pain. They also strive to prevent any progression of the disability. Though the causes of disability requiring physical therapy are numerous, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists practice in close affiliation with other Helena AL medical professionals, including doctors, chiropractors, dentists and nurses. They may also manage several physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. Something to keep in mind for anyone thinking about going into the physical therapy profession, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift patients and heavy equipment, and kneel, crouch and stand for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degrees Offered

Helena Alabama DPT working with man in pool

There are 3 physical therapist degrees offered 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 emphasize either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or preparing them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief explanations of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Helena AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to be physical therapy assistants, or may be the first step toward earning a more advanced degree. Candidates must have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent to be accepted for enrollment. The programs are usually offered by junior or community colleges, and require 2 years to complete. Clinical training, which may be in the form of an internship is usually a portion of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are created as pre-physical therapy training to ready candidates to progress to the doctoral level. While they are not required to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an integral first step to practicing as a PT. As with the majority of bachelor's degrees, they typically take four years to finish and usually incorporate an internship program of at least 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are mandated 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). After earning the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes three years to finish, making the overall commitment seven years in the majority of cases. Practical or clinical training is an important element along with the extensive lab and classroom instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is mandated, not just 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 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 instituted.

Physical Therapy Online Degrees

Helena Alabama female student taking physical therapist classes onlineAlthough not as prevalent as the on campus alternatives, there are many accredited online physical therapy programs offered, more so at the graduate level. Due to 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 in proximity of a sponsored internship. However, the online segment of the course of study may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Helena AL residence. Online schools are not only partially more accessible, but in many cases more economical. Tuition may be significantly lower than similar on-campus alternatives, and expenses for commuting are reduced. And many of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These benefits may make the online option the best choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

What to Ask Physical Therapy Colleges

By now you undoubtedly have made a decision concerning some of your initial questions, like the type of physical therapy degree you would like to obtain, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to spend for your education. But because there are so many PT schools within the Helena 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 need to be sure that you pick the program that is best for you. That's the reason we have put together a list of important questions that you need to ask the physical therapist programs you are considering. Ask each of the competing colleges these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Ask if the colleges you are looking at have received accreditation from a national or a regional 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 earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapy program and school you enroll in are accredited, not simply the school. Additionally, check that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. Besides guaranteeing that you obtain a quality education, accreditation may be mandated for state licensing as well as for securing student loans or financial assistance.

What is the College's Ranking? Along with accreditation, it's important that the school and program you choose have outstanding reputations within the physical therapy profession. There are a number of ways you can investigate a PT program's reputation, beginning with asking for references from employers that they refer their students to. You may also search for online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Contact a few Helena AL physical therapist centers or other medical care facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can provide any advice about your school selections. It may also be prudent to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been submitted against the schools.

What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a couple of important statistics that you should know about all of the physical therapy colleges you are considering. First is their graduation rate. A low rate might indicate that students left due to displeasure with the program, the instructors, or both. After the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being hired with the support of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Helena AL area? If a school has a higher job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the medical care community is good or even outstanding. It also affirms that the program has a broad network of contacts to assist students get internships or employment after graduation.

Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's essential that the school you select provides both superior training and a curriculum that supports the licensing criteria 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) along with a degree from an accredited physical therapy college. While licensing requirements differ state by state for PTA and PT graduates, many states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed as well as passing scores on supplemental exams.

Are Internships Sponsored? Inquire if the physical therapy programs you are reviewing have partnerships with Helena AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Internships are not only an excellent way to receive practical training in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they may assist graduates and students develop professional relationships in the Helena health care community and help with job placement once licensed.

What are the Class Sizes ? Unless you are the type of student that likes to sit way in the back of class or hide in the crowd, you will undoubtedly want a small class size. Small classes allow for more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are considering 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 final decision. This will also give you a chance to talk with some of the instructors and students to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapist program as well.

Where is the College Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapist college they select will have to be within commuting distance of their Helena AL home. Those who have chosen to attend classes online naturally will not have to trouble themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of importance. One thing 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 have to pay a higher tuition. State colleges usually charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges generally charge a higher tuition for those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Support Provided? Most DPT schools offer some form of financial support to their potential students. Find out if the colleges you are reviewing have a financial aid department and find out what type of help is obtainable. At a minimum they should help in acquiring a student loan or any grants you may qualify for. Some physical therapist schools offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a program because the tuition is beyond your budget, learn what financial aid might be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And last you must verify that the physical therapist college you ultimately select can provide the class schedule you need. This is especially crucial if you opt to continue working while attending school. If you need to schedule night or weekend classes in the Helena AL area, verify that they are available. 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, learn what the protocol is for making up any classes that you might miss as a result of illness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Helena Physical Therapy Colleges

Enroll in the Right Helena Physical Therapy School

Deciding on the ideal physical therapist college is an important initial decision you must make to launch a gratifying career in the health care field. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you pick should both have outstanding reputations and be accredited. However there are other important questions that you need to ask concerning your college of choice as well. As you commence your search for a physical therapy school bear in mind that a number of variables will guide you to your final decision. You may decide to visit different colleges to view their facilities and talk to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this school help me reach my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By adhering to our list of additional questions, you will have the ability to narrow down the field so you can make the right selection. And with the necessary education and training, you can achieve your dream to become a practicing physical therapist in Helena Alabama.


 

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