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How to Choose the Right Physical Therapy Degree Program Near Muscle Shoals Alabama

Muscle Shoals Alabama physical therapist working with woman holding balance ballEarning a physical therapy degree near Muscle Shoals AL is an important first step to beginning a rewarding career in the medical care industry. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been incapacitated due to injury or illness gain back mobility and function. But before they can practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to get the proper education and training. A PT must additionally become licensed in every state, a large number requiring that the licensee earn a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So prior to selecting a physical therapy school, it's necessary to research the ones you are considering to make certain they will provide a quality education and satisfy your state's licensing standards. What you should not do is choose a school simply because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has the lowest tuition. There are other significant 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 Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Muscle Shoals Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as Muscle Shoals AL hospitals, health clinics, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and sports facilities. What the facilities all share in common is that they have the equipment for the diagnosis and rehabilitation treatment of patients. As earlier touched on, physical therapists help individuals that are experiencing a lack of mobility and often 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 progression of the disability. Though the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists practice in close affiliation with other Muscle Shoals AL medical professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise several physical therapy assistants who work for them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. One thing to keep in mind for anyone thinking about going into the physical therapy profession, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists often lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degree Options

Muscle Shoals Alabama physical therapist working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapist degrees available for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these choices, the one degree that is attainable 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 readying them to advance to the doctoral level. Below are short explanations of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Muscle Shoals AL area:

  • Associate Degrees prepare students to be physical therapy assistants, or may be the first step toward earning a more advanced degree. Candidates must have a high school diploma or equivalent to be accepted for enrollment. The programs are usually made available by community colleges, and take about two years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is normally a component of the program.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapy training to prep students to advance to the doctoral level. While they are not required to be a candidate for the doctoral program, they are an essential preliminary step to becoming a PT. Similar to the majority of bachelor's degrees, they typically require 4 years to finish and commonly incorporate an internship program of at least 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are mandated 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). In addition to the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to complete, making the overall commitment seven years in the majority of cases. Clinical training is an essential component in addition to the extensive classroom and lab instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in a number of 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. Some practicing physical therapists having a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was implemented.

Physical Therapist Online Degrees

Muscle Shoals Alabama female student taking physical therapy training onlineAlthough not as common as the more traditional alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapist degrees offered, even more at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on structure of the training, internships and clinical lab work are combined 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 can be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Muscle Shoals AL home. Online schools are not only to some extent more accessible, but in many cases more economical. Tuition may be somewhat lower than similar on campus options, and costs for commuting are minimized. And a number of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, ensuring a quality education. These advantages can make the online option the right choice for those students that are disciplined enough to attend classes at home.

Subjects to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

At this point you most likely have made a decision regarding several of your preliminary questions, including the type of physical therapist degree you want to attain, where you want to attend classes, and how much you can afford to invest in your education. But considering there are numerous PT colleges within the Muscle Shoals AL area and across Alabama, you'll have to research other qualifications also in order to further reduce your list of college options. Furthermore, you need to make certain that you enroll in the college that is right for you. That's why we have collected a list of essential questions that you must ask the physical therapist programs you are considering. Ask all of the competing schools these questions before making a final selection.

Is the Physical Therapy College Accredited?  Ask if the schools you are considering have earned accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As earlier 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 enroll in an online college, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapist program and school you select are accredited, not simply the school. Also, verify that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. In addition to guaranteeing that you obtain a quality education, accreditation might be mandated for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial assistance.

What is the School's Reputation? In addition to accreditation, it's important that the college and program you select have outstanding reputations within the physical therapist profession. There are multiple ways you can research a PT school's reputation, beginning with asking for references from employers that they place their graduates with. You can also search for online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Get in touch with some Muscle Shoals AL physical therapy centers or other health care facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can give you any insight about your college selections. It might also be a good idea to check with the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been filed against the schools.

What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a couple of important statistics that you need to know about each of the physical therapy programs you are considering. One is their graduation rate. A lower rate may suggest that students dropped out because of displeasure with the program, the teachers, or both. Once the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the assistance of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Muscle Shoals AL area? If a college has a higher job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the medical care community is good or perhaps excellent. It also verifies that the college has a large network of contacts to assist students gain internships or jobs after graduation.

Does the Program Prepare You For Licensing Requirements? It's essential that the college you enroll in furnishes both excellent training and a course of study that satisfies the licensing requirements for Alabama or the state where you will be practicing. In every state a passing score is required on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) as well as a degree from an accredited physical therapy college. While licensing requirements vary state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental tests.

Are Internship Programs Provided? Inquire if the physical therapist programs you are interested in have associations with Muscle Shoals AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Internships are not only an excellent way to obtain hands on experience in a clinical setting, they are also a requirement for the majority of PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they can help graduates and students form professional connections in the Muscle Shoals healthcare community and assist with job placement after licensing.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of person that prefers to sit far in the back of class or hide in the crowd, you will likely want a smaller class size. Small classes allow for more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are reviewing what the typical teacher to student ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may want to sit in on one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you a chance to speak with several of the instructors and students to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapy program as well.

Where is the School Located? For many students, the physical therapist school they decide on will need to be within driving distance of their Muscle Shoals AL home. Students who have opted to attend online classes obviously will not have to worry themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area internships will be of concern. One thing to bear 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 may be required to pay a higher tuition. State colleges typically charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges normally charge a higher tuition for those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Help Provided? Most DPT colleges provide some type of financial support to their prospective students. Ask if the colleges you are examining have a financial assistance office and find out what type of aid is obtainable. They at least should help in obtaining a student loan or any scholarships you may be eligible for. Some physical therapy schools provide scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before you eliminate a program because the tuition is beyond your budget, learn what financial assistance might be available.

Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you must verify that the physical therapy program you ultimately choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is particularly crucial if you opt 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 enroll on a part-time basis, check if that is an alternative and how many credit hours or courses you would have to enroll in. Also, ask what the protocol is for making up any classes that you might miss due to illness, work or family emergencies.

Learn More About Muscle Shoals Physical Therapy Degrees

Choose the Right Muscle Shoals Physical Therapist School

Picking the ideal physical therapist school 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 PT or DPT degree program and college you pick should both have outstanding reputations and accreditation. However there are other relevant questions that you should ask pertaining to your college of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapist school keep in mind that many factors will guide you toward your ultimate decision. You may want to visit each of the colleges to see their facilities and speak with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this school help me achieve 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 ideal choice. And with the necessary education and training, you can accomplish your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Muscle Shoals Alabama.


 

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