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How to Choose the Right Physical Therapist Degree Program Near Southside Alabama

Southside Alabama physical therapist working with female patient using exercise ballGetting a physical therapy degree near Southside AL is an essential first step to starting a rewarding career in the health care field. Physical therapists (PT) help patients who have been disabled due to illness or injury gain back mobility and function. But before they can practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they must acquire the necessary education and training. A PT must also become licensed in every state, many mandating that the licensee earn a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So prior to enrolling in a physical therapy school, it's necessary to investigate those you are looking at to make sure they will supply a quality education and meet your state's licensing criteria. What you should not do is enroll in a college just because it happens to be the closest to your home or it has the lowest tuition. There are other important qualifications that need to be considered along with location and cost. But before we talk about what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we'll cover what a physical therapist does and the options for education.

What is a Physical Therapist?

Southside Alabama DPT assisting woman to walk

Physical therapists practice in varying locations, including Southside AL hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and sports facilities. What the facilities all have in common is that they are equipped for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously stated, physical therapists help people that are experiencing a lack of mobility and often pain due to injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they create a program of treatment to deal with the mobility issues and reduce or eliminate any pain. They also endeavor to stop any progression of the disability. Though the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Arthritis or Osteoporosis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Strokes
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Sports injuries
  • Burn injuries
  • Hip Replacement
  • Sciatica
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Southside AL medical specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, registered nurses and dentists. They can also manage several physical therapy assistants who work under them assisting with diagnosing and treating their patients. One thing to take note of for anyone considering going into the physical therapy profession, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and stand, crouch and kneel for long periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degree Options

Southside Alabama DPT working with man in pool

There are three physical therapy degrees available for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these alternatives, the single degree that is attainable that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees emphasize either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or prepping them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are brief explanations of degree levels that are available to prospective students in the Southside AL area:

  • Associate Degrees train students to practice as 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 programs are usually offered by community or junior colleges, and take about two years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is usually part of the program.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are created as pre-physical therapy training to ready candidates to move up to the doctoral level. Although they are not a requirement 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 generally require four years to complete and often include an internship program of a minimum of 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are required if you want to become a practicing licensed 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 total commitment 7 years in most cases. Practical or clinical training is an intregal element along with the extensive classroom and lab instruction. Consequently the fulfillment of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in several 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 attainable in the United States. Some practicing physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the current licensing requirement for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapist Online Degrees

Southside Alabama woman taking physical therapist classes onlineWhile not as common as the on-campus options, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy degrees offered, more so at the graduate level. Because of 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 school campus or in proximity of an available internship. However, the online part of the curriculum may be accessed within the convenience and comfort of the student's Southside AL home. Online programs are not only to some extent more accessible, but in a number of instances more economical. Tuition can be significantly less 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 advantages can make the online alternative the right choice for those students that are dedicated enough to attend classes at home.

Topics to Ask Physical Therapist Programs

At this point you undoubtedly have come to decision regarding a few of your preliminary questions, such as the kind of physical therapy degree you intend to obtain, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much you can afford to spend for your education. But considering there are numerous PT schools within the Southside AL area and across Alabama, you'll need to look into additional qualifications as well so as to further reduce your list of school options. Furthermore, you want to be sure that you enroll in the college that is best for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of critical questions that you need to ask the physical therapist schools you are reviewing. Ask each of the competing schools these questions prior to making a final selection.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Ask if the schools you are looking at have earned accreditation from a regional or a national agency. 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 select an online program, it can also earn accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's imperative that both the physical therapy school and program you choose are accredited, not simply the school. Additionally, make sure that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting agency. Along with guaranteeing that you receive a quality education, accreditation might be mandated for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial aid.

What is the Program's Standing? In addition to accreditation, it's imperative that the college and program you select have outstanding reputations within the physical therapist community. There are multiple ways you can investigate a PT college's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also search for online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting agencies for their reviews as well. Contact several Southside AL physical therapist centers or other healthcare facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can give you any recommendations about your program selections. It may also be prudent to check with the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to find out if any complaints have been filed against the schools.

What is the College's Job Placement Rate? There are a couple of important statistics that you should know about each of the physical therapist colleges you are considering. One is their graduation rate. A lower rate may mean that students dropped out due to displeasure with the program, the teachers, or both. Once the students have graduated, how many of them are being hired with the support of the school's job placement program, particularly in the Southside 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 even outstanding. It also verifies that the program has a broad network of contacts to help students obtain internships or employment after graduation.

Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's essential that the program you choose provides both excellent training and a course of study that supports the licensing criteria 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) in addition to a degree from an accredited physical therapist college. Although licensing requirements vary state by state for PT and PTA graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on additional exams.

Are Internships Sponsored? Inquire if the physical therapy schools you are assessing have associations with Southside AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent way to obtain practical training in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a supplemental benefit, they can help graduates and students establish professional connections in the Southside healthcare community and help with job placement once licensed.

How Big are the Classes ? Unless you are the kind of person that prefers to sit way in the back of class or get lost 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 colleges you are considering what the average student to teacher ratio is for their classes. If practical you may prefer to sit in on one or more classes before making your ultimate decision. This will also give you a chance to speak with some of the students and instructors to get their opinions regarding the physical therapy program also.

Where is the School Located? For many students, the physical therapy college they choose will need to be within travelling distance of their Southside AL home. Those who have opted to attend classes online naturally will not have to concern themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of importance. One thing 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 may have to pay a higher tuition. State colleges commonly 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 Assistance Provided? Most DPT schools provide some form of financial support to their prospective students. Find out if the schools you are examining have a financial aid department and see what kind of aid is available. They at least should help in acquiring a student loan or any scholarships you might be eligible for. Some physical therapy colleges provide scholarships, while others provide work programs. So before you eliminate a program because the tuition is beyond your budget, learn what financial aid may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And last you need to confirm that the physical therapy school you ultimately pick can offer the class schedule you need. This is especially crucial if you decide to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Southside AL area, confirm that they are offered. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, find out if that is an option and how many credit hours or courses you would have to carry. Also, find out what the protocol is for making up any classes that you may miss because of illness, work or family emergencies.

Find Out More About Southside Physical Therapy Training

Choose the Right Southside Physical Therapist School

Selecting the right physical therapist college is an important first decision you need to make to begin a fulfilling career in the health care field. As we have discussed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and college you select should both have excellent reputations and accreditation. But there are additional important questions that you should ask regarding your school of choice as well. As you begin your search for a physical therapy school bear in mind that numerous variables will guide you toward your final decision. You may want to go to different schools to see their facilities and speak with active DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this program help me reach my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By adhering to our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the field so you can make the appropriate selection. And with the necessary training and education, you can accomplish your dream of becoming a practicing physical therapist in Southside Alabama.


 

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