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How to Find the Right Physical Therapist Degree Program Near Muscle Shoals Alabama

Muscle Shoals Alabama physical therapist working with woman using balance ballGetting a physical therapy degree near Muscle Shoals AL is an essential first step to launching a fulfilling career in the healthcare industry. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been disabled due to illness or injury gain back mobility and function. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to acquire the appropriate education and training. A PT must also become licensed in all states, many mandating that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So before selecting a physical therapy school, it's essential to investigate the ones you are looking at to make certain they will furnish a quality education and satisfy your state's licensing criteria. What you do not want to do is choose a school just because it happens to be the closest to your residence or it has the most affordable tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that need to be considered in addition to cost and location. But before we cover what those qualifications are and the questions you should be asking, we'll address what a physical therapist does and the options for education.

What is a Physical Therapist?

Muscle Shoals Alabama DPT assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in diverse locations, including Muscle Shoals AL hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and sports facilities. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously mentioned, physical therapists help patients that are suffering from a lack of mobility and frequently pain due to injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they design a course of treatment to address the mobility issues and lessen or eliminate any pain. They also try to prevent any advancement of the disability. While the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fire injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other Muscle Shoals AL health specialists, including doctors, chiropractors, registered nurses and dentists. They may also manage several physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with 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 regularly lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and kneel, crouch and stand for extended periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degree Options

Muscle Shoals Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapist degrees offered for individuals to enroll in at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Of these options, 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 progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief descriptions of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Muscle Shoals 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 GED to be accepted for enrollment. The degrees are usually provided by junior or community colleges, and require 2 years for completion. Clinical training, which may be in the form of an internship is typically a component of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapist training to prepare students 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 the majority of bachelor's degrees, they typically require 4 years to complete and usually include an internship program of at least 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). After earning the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes three years to finish, making the overall commitment 7 years in most cases. Clinical training is an important component along with the extensive classroom and lab instruction. Consequently the fulfillment of an internship is required, not only 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 eliminated and is no longer offered 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 Online Degrees

Muscle Shoals Alabama female student taking physical therapy classes onlineWhile not as common as the on-campus options, there are some accredited online physical therapist programs offered, even more at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on structure of the training, internships and clinical lab work are combined with the online classes. This requires that the student live near the school campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. However, the online portion of the course of study may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Muscle Shoals 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 alternatives, and expenditures for commuting are reduced. And many of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, guaranteeing a quality education. These benefits may make the online alternative the best choice for those students that are disciplined enough to attend classes at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapy Colleges

By now you probably have made a decision concerning several of your preliminary questions, including the type of physical therapy degree you want to earn, 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 Muscle Shoals AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll have to research other qualifications also in order to further narrow your list of college choices. Furthermore, you want to make sure that you select the college that is best for you. That's the reason we have compiled a list of essential questions that you must ask the physical therapy schools you are reviewing. Ask each of the potential colleges these questions before making an ultimate selection.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Find out if the schools you are considering have earned accreditation from a regional or a national organization. As previously 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 choose an online school, it can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's imperative that both the physical therapy school and program you select are accredited, not just the school. Also, verify that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization. Besides guaranteeing that you obtain an excellent education, accreditation may be required for state licensing as well as for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the College's Ranking? In addition to accreditation, it's imperative that the college and program you pick have outstanding reputations within the physical therapy profession. There are multiple ways you can look into a PT school's reputation, starting with requesting references from employers that they place their graduates with. You may also search for online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Contact a few Muscle Shoals AL physical therapy centers or other healthcare facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can offer any recommendations about your program selections. It might also be prudent to check with 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 two important statistics that you need to find out about all of the physical therapy schools you are considering. First is their graduation rate. A low rate might mean that students dropped out due to displeasure with the program, the teachers, or both. Once the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being hired with the help of the college's job placement program, particularly in the Muscle Shoals AL area? If a school has a higher job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the healthcare community is good or perhaps excellent. It also verifies that the program has a large network of contacts to help students obtain internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the program you choose furnishes both superior 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) along with a degree from an accredited physical therapist school. Although licensing requirements differ state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental exams.

Are Internships Sponsored? Ask if the physical therapist programs you are reviewing have partnerships with Muscle Shoals AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent manner to get hands on experience in a clinical environment, they are also a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they may assist students and graduates establish professional relationships in the Muscle Shoals health care community and help with job placement once licensed.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of person that likes to sit far in the rear of class or hide in the crowd, you will undoubtedly prefer a small class size. Small classes allow for more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapy schools you are reviewing what the typical student to teacher ratio is for their classes. If practical you may want to monitor one or more classes before making your ultimate determination. This will also give you a chance to speak with a few of the students and instructors to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapy program also.

Where is the School Located? For a number of students, the physical therapy college they decide on will need to be within travelling distance of their Muscle Shoals AL residence. Students who have decided 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 program that is out of state or even out of your local area, you might be required to pay a higher tuition. State colleges commonly charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges frequently charge a higher tuition to those students that live outside of their districts.

Is Financial Support Provided? The majority of DPT schools supply some form of financial assistance to their potential students. Ask if the colleges you are examining have a financial aid office and find out what kind of help is offered. At a minimum they should help in obtaining a student loan or any scholarships you might qualify for. A number of physical therapist schools offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a program because the tuition is too expensive, find out what financial assistance might be available.

Can the School Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you need to verify that the physical therapy school you finally choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is particularly essential if you choose to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Muscle Shoals AL area, confirm 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 enroll in. Also, learn what the procedure is for making up any classes that you might miss due to work, illness or family obligations.

Learn More About Muscle Shoals Physical Therapy Colleges

Enroll in the Best Muscle Shoals Physical Therapy School

Choosing the ideal physical therapist program is a necessary initial decision you have to make to launch a gratifying career in the healthcare field. As we have discussed in this article, the PT or DPT degree program and school you pick should both have exceptional reputations and be accredited. But there are other relevant questions that you need to ask pertaining to your school of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapist college bear in mind that many factors will guide you toward your final decision. You might decide to go to each of the schools to view their facilities and talk to active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this school help me reach my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By adhering to our list of additional questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the ideal selection. And with the proper training and education, you can achieve your dream to become a licensed physical therapist in Muscle Shoals Alabama.


 

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