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How to Enroll In the Right Physical Therapist Program Near Opelika Alabama

Opelika Alabama physical therapist working with female patient holding exercise ballEarning a physical therapy degree near Opelika AL is a critical first step to starting a rewarding career in the healthcare field. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been debilitated due to injury or illness gain back mobility and function. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they need to obtain the appropriate training and education. A PT must also become licensed in all states, a large number requiring that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So prior to choosing a physical therapy school, it's necessary to research the ones you are considering to make certain they will provide a quality education and meet your state's licensing criteria. What you do not want to do is choose a school just because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has the lowest tuition. There are other important qualifications that need to be considered besides location and cost. But before we cover what those qualifications are and the questions you should be asking, we'll address what a physical therapist does and what the educational options are.

What Does a Physical Therapist Do?

Opelika Alabama DPT assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists work in varying settings, such as Opelika AL hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and sports facilities. What the facilities all share in common is that they are equipped for the diagnosis and rehabilitation treatment of patients. As previously mentioned, physical therapists help people that are suffering from a lack of mobility and frequently pain due to illness or injury. After patient diagnosis, they create a program of treatment to resolve the mobility issues and lessen or eliminate any pain. They also endeavor to stop any advancement of the disability. Although the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Car or motor cycle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists work in close partnerships with other Opelika AL health professionals, including doctors, chiropractors, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise several physical therapy assistants who work under them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. One thing to take note of for anyone thinking about entering the physical therapy field, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degree Options

Opelika Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are three physical therapist degrees available for students to enroll in at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these choices, the single degree that is offered that qualifies the graduate to become a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees focus on either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or preparing them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are short explanations of degrees that are available to prospective students in the Opelika AL area:

  • Associate Degrees train students to become 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 usually provided by community or junior colleges, and require 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 therapy education to ready candidates to move up to the doctoral level. Although they are not a requirement to be eligible for the doctoral program, they are an essential initial step to becoming a PT. Similar to 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 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). In addition to the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to complete, making the overall commitment 7 years in the majority of cases. Practical or clinical training is an essential element in addition to the extensive lab and classroom instruction. Therefor the completion of an internship is mandated, not only 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 United States. A number of licensed physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was implemented.

Physical Therapy Colleges Online

Opelika Alabama female student taking physical therapy training onlineWhile not as common as the on campus options, there are many 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 nearby a sponsored internship. Fortunately, the online part of the curriculum may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Opelika AL residence. Online programs are not only to some extent more accessible, but in a number of cases more economical. Tuition can be somewhat 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 benefits may make the online alternative the right choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapy Schools

At this point you probably have come to decision regarding a few of your initial queries, such as the kind of physical therapy degree you want to obtain, where you want to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to invest in your education. But considering there are numerous PT colleges within the Opelika AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll have to look into additional qualifications also so as to further reduce your list of school options. Moreover, you want to be sure that you pick the program that is right for you. That's why we have put together a list of essential questions that you must ask the physical therapist schools you are thinking about. Ask each of the potential schools these questions before making a final decision.

Is the Physical Therapy School Accredited?  Ask if the colleges you are looking at have earned accreditation from a national or a regional 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 select an online school, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapist school and program you choose are accredited, not simply the school. Also, verify that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency. In addition to ensuring that you receive an excellent education, accreditation may be mandated for state licensing as well as for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the School's Standing? Along with accreditation, it's imperative that the college and program you select have excellent reputations within the physical therapy community. There are several ways you can look into a PT school's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they place their graduates with. You can also check online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews also. Contact several Opelika AL physical therapist clinics or other healthcare facilities that you might be interested in working for and ask if they can offer any advice about your program selections. It may also be a good idea 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 couple of important statistics that you need to find out about each of the physical therapist schools you are reviewing. One is their graduation rate. A lower rate may suggest that students left due to dissatisfaction with the program, the teachers, or both. Once the students have graduated, how many of them are being placed in jobs with the help of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Opelika AL area? If a school has a high job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the medical care community is good or even exceptional. It also verifies that the program has a wide network of contacts to help students obtain internships or jobs upon graduation.

Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the school you enroll in furnishes both exceptional training and a curriculum that supports the licensing criteria for Alabama or the state where you will be working. In every state a passing score is needed on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapist program. Although licensing requirements fluctuate state by state for PTA and PT graduates, some states require a minimum number of clinical hours be completed as well as passing scores on additional exams.

Are Internships Provided? Ask if the physical therapist schools you are evaluating have associations with Opelika AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent means to receive practical experience in a clinical environment, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a supplemental benefit, they can help students and graduates develop professional connections in the Opelika medical community and help with job placement after licensing.

How Large are the Classes ? Unless you are the sort 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 reviewing what the typical teacher to student ratio is for their classrooms. 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 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 therapy college they decide on will have to be within driving distance of their Opelika AL home. Those who have opted to attend classes online obviously will not have to concern themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of concern. Something to keep in mind is that if you choose to enroll in a school that is out of state or perhaps out of your local area, you might have to pay a higher tuition. State colleges often charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges usually charge a higher tuition for those students that live outside of their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? Most DPT schools supply some type of financial assistance to their potential students. Ask if the colleges you are looking at have a financial assistance office and see what type of aid is available. They at least should help in acquiring a student loan or any grants you may qualify for. Some physical therapist colleges provide scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before you eliminate a school because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial aid may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And last you need to confirm that the physical therapist college you finally choose can furnish the class schedule you need. This is especially important if you choose to continue working while you attend school. If you need to schedule night or weekend classes in the Opelika AL area, make sure that they are offered. If you can only attend part-time, find out if that is an option and how many courses or credit hours you would need to enroll in. Also, ask what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss because of illness, work or family obligations.

Find Out More About Opelika Online Physical Therapy Degrees

Choose the Right Opelika Physical Therapist School

Choosing the right physical therapist school is a necessary first decision you need to make to begin a rewarding career in the medical field. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you select should both have exceptional reputations and be accredited. But there are other critical questions that you should ask concerning your school of choice as well. As you begin your search for a physical therapy school keep in mind that numerous factors will lead you toward your final decision. You might decide to go to different colleges to view their facilities and talk with current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this college help me realize 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 options so you can make the ideal choice. And with the necessary training and education, you can accomplish your dream to become a licensed physical therapist in Opelika Alabama.


 

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