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How to Select the Right Physical Therapy School Near Hoover Alabama

Hoover Alabama physical therapist working with woman using exercise ballReceiving a physical therapist degree near Hoover AL is a critical first step to launching a fulfilling career in the healthcare industry. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been debilitated as a result of injury or illness regain mobility and function. But before they can practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to receive the appropriate education and training. A PT must also become licensed in all states, a large number mandating that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before selecting a physical therapy school, it's necessary to investigate the ones you are thinking about to make sure they will furnish a quality education and comply with your state's licensing requirements. 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 important qualifications that must be evaluated besides 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 is a Physical Therapist's Job Description?

Hoover Alabama DPT assisting woman to walk

Physical therapists work in varying locations, including Hoover AL private practices, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and sports facilities. What the facilities all share in common is that they have the equipment for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously stated, physical therapists help patients that are experiencing a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to injury or illness. After diagnosing a patient, they develop a course of treatment to resolve the mobility problems and reduce or eliminate any pain. They also try to prevent any advancement of the disability. Although the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Heart attacks
  • Sports injuries
  • Fire injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Hoover AL medical professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work for them assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. One thing to keep in mind for anyone thinking about entering the physical therapy field, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and kneel, crouch and stand for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Available

Hoover Alabama physical therapist working with man in pool

There are three physical therapy degrees offered for students to pursue at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Of these choices, the single degree that is available that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees focus on either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or readying them to advance to the doctoral level. Following are brief explanations of degree levels that are available to prospective students in the Hoover AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to be physical therapy assistants, or may be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Candidates must have a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The programs are typically offered by community colleges, and take about two years to complete. Clinical training, which may be in the form of an internship is normally part of the program.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapy training to ready students to progress to the doctoral level. While they are not a requirement to be a candidate for the doctoral program, they are an important initial step to practicing as a PT. Similar to most bachelor's degrees, they typically require four years to finish and usually include 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 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 investment of time seven years in the majority of cases. Clinical or practical training is an important element in addition to the substantial lab and classroom instruction. Consequently the fulfillment of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in some 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 phased out and is no longer attainable in the United States. A number of practicing physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the present licensing mandate for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapist Programs Online

Hoover Alabama female student taking physical therapy classes onlineWhile not as prevalent as the on-campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy programs available, 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 near the college campus or nearby an available internship. Fortunately, the online part of the curriculum may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Hoover AL residence. Online programs are not only partially more accessible, but in a number of instances more economical. Tuition might be significantly lower than similar on campus options, and expenses for commuting are reduced. And a number of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, ensuring a quality education. These advantages can make the online alternative the right choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapy Programs

At this point you most likely have come to decision regarding some of your initial questions, including the type of physical therapist degree you would like to earn, 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 Hoover AL area and across Alabama, you'll have to explore other qualifications as well so as to further reduce your list of school options. Moreover, you need to be sure that you pick the college that is best for you. That's why we have put together a list of essential questions that you need to ask the physical therapist schools you are reviewing. Ask all of the competing colleges these questions prior to making a final decision.

Is the Physical Therapy School Accredited?  Ask if the programs you are looking at have earned accreditation from a regional or a national organization. As earlier stated, 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 can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapist program and school you select are accredited, not just the school. Also, make sure that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting agency. In addition to ensuring that you receive an excellent education, accreditation may be required for state licensing as well as for getting student loans or financial assistance.

What is the School's Standing? In addition to accreditation, it's essential that the school and program you choose have exceptional reputations within the physical therapy profession. There are several ways you can investigate a PT program's reputation, starting 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 agencies for their reviews also. Get in touch with some Hoover AL physical therapy centers or other health care facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can give you any insight 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 schools.

What is the College'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 may suggest that students left due to dissatisfaction with the program, the teachers, or both. After the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being placed in jobs with the assistance of the college's job placement program, particularly in the Hoover AL area? If a school has a high job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the medical care community is good or perhaps excellent. It also confirms that the school has a broad network of contacts to assist students get internships or employment upon graduation.

Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's important that the school you choose provides both superior 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 needed on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) as well as a degree from an accredited physical therapy program. Although licensing requirements differ state by state for PTA and PT graduates, many states require a minimum number of clinical hours be performed and passing scores on supplemental tests.

Are Internship Programs Offered? Find out if the physical therapist schools you are assessing have partnerships with Hoover AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Internships are not only an excellent way to obtain practical experience in a clinical environment, they are also a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they can assist graduates and students establish professional connections in the Hoover health care community and assist with job placement after licensing.

How Large are the Classes ? Unless you are the type of student that likes to sit far in the rear of class or get lost in the crowd, you will likely prefer a small class size. Small classes permit more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapy colleges you are reviewing what the typical teacher to student ratio is for their classes. If practical you may want to sit in on one or more classes before making your final determination. This will also give you an opportunity to converse with some of the instructors and students to get their opinions 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 travelling distance of their Hoover AL residence. Individuals 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 concern. One thing to keep in mind is that if you choose to enroll in a college that is out of state or perhaps out of your local area, you might need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges usually charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges commonly charge a higher tuition for those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Provided? Most DPT schools offer some type of financial aid to their potential students. Inquire if the colleges you are looking at have a financial assistance department and find out what kind of assistance is offered. They at least should help in securing a student loan or any grants you might qualify for. A number of physical therapist schools provide scholarships, while others provide work programs. So before eliminating a program because the tuition is beyond your budget, learn what financial assistance may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And last you must confirm that the physical therapist college you finally select can offer the class schedule you need. This is particularly crucial if you choose to continue working while attending school. If you need to schedule night or weekend classes in the Hoover AL area, make certain that they are offered. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, check if that is an option and how many courses or credit hours you would have to carry. Also, learn what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss due to work, illness or family obligations.

Learn More About Hoover Online Physical Therapy Degrees

Enroll in the Right Hoover Physical Therapy School

Picking the right physical therapy college is an important initial decision you need to make to launch a rewarding career in the healthcare field. As we have covered in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you pick should both have excellent reputations and be accredited. However there are additional important questions that you should ask concerning your school of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapist school keep in mind that a number of factors will lead you toward your ultimate decision. You may want to visit each of the schools to see their facilities and speak with current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this program help me achieve my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the options so you can make the best selection. And with the proper training and education, you can achieve your dream to become a licensed physical therapist in Hoover Alabama.


 

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