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How to Choose the Right Physical Therapy Training Program Near Tuscaloosa Alabama

Tuscaloosa Alabama physical therapist working with woman using exercise ballEarning a physical therapy degree near Tuscaloosa AL is an essential first step to launching a rewarding career in the healthcare field. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been disabled due to injury or illness regain mobility and function. But before they may legally practice and provide treatment for the rehabilitation of patients, they need to acquire the necessary training and education. A PT must additionally become licensed in all states, many mandating that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So before enrolling in a physical therapy school, it's essential to evaluate those you are considering to make certain they will furnish a quality education and meet your state's licensing requirements. What you should not do is enroll in a school just because it happens to be the nearest to your residence or it has the lowest tuition. There are other significant qualifications that need to be considered along with cost and location. But before we talk about what those qualifications are and what questions you should ask, we'll address what a physical therapist does and what the educational options are.

What is a Physical Therapist's Job Description?

Tuscaloosa Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in diverse locations, including Tuscaloosa 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 diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously mentioned, physical therapists help individuals that are experiencing a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to injury or illness. After diagnosing a patient, they create a course of treatment to resolve the mobility problems and lessen or eliminate any pain. They also try to prevent any progression of the disability. While the causes of disability requiring physical therapy are numerous, they include:

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

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Tuscaloosa AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also supervise several physical therapy assistants who work for them assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. Something to keep in mind for anyone considering going into the physical therapy profession, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for long periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Available

Tuscaloosa Alabama DPT working with man in pool

There are three physical therapist degrees available for students to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the one degree that is attainable that qualifies the graduate to become a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees concentrate on either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or readying them to advance to the doctoral level. Below are short summaries of degree levels that are offered to prospective students in the Tuscaloosa AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to be physical therapy assistants, or can be used as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent to be accepted for enrollment. The degrees are typically offered by community or junior colleges, and require two years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is typically part of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are developed as pre-physical therapy training to prep candidates to advance to the doctoral level. While they are not a requirement to be eligible for the doctoral program, they are an integral initial step to practicing as a PT. Similar to the majority of bachelor's degrees, they typically require four years to finish and often incorporate 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). After earning the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes three years to finish, making the total investment of time seven years in most cases. Clinical training is an important component along with the extensive lab and classroom instruction. Consequently the fulfillment of an internship is required, not solely for graduation but in some states for licensing as well.

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 practicing physical therapists holding 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 Online Schools

Tuscaloosa Alabama female student taking physical therapy training onlineAlthough not as prevalent as the more traditional alternatives, there are some accredited online physical therapy programs offered, more so at the graduate level. Due to the hands-on nature 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 a sponsored internship. However, the online segment of the program may be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Tuscaloosa AL home. Online schools are not only to some extent more accessible, but in a number of cases more affordable. Tuition can be somewhat less than comparable on campus options, and costs for commuting are reduced. And a number of the online programs are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These benefits may make the online alternative the ideal choice for those students that are dedicated enough to attend classes at home.

What to Ask Physical Therapy Colleges

At this point you probably have come to decision regarding a few of your initial questions, including the type of physical therapist degree you would like to attain, where you prefer to attend classes, and how much money you can afford to invest in your education. But since there are numerous PT schools within the Tuscaloosa AL area and throughout Alabama, you'll need to research additional qualifications as well so as to further narrow your list of school choices. Moreover, you want to make sure that you enroll in the program that is right for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of important questions that you need to ask the physical therapy schools you are thinking about. Ask each of the potential colleges these questions before making an ultimate selection.

Is the Physical Therapy Program Accredited?  Ask if the schools you are considering have received accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As previously 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 can also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's important that both the physical therapy program and school you choose are accredited, not just the school. Additionally, make sure that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. In addition to ensuring that you obtain a quality education, accreditation might be mandated for state licensing and even for securing student loans or financial assistance.

What is the Program's Ranking? Along with accreditation, it's essential that the college and program you select have excellent reputations within the physical therapist community. There are a number of ways you can investigate a PT school's reputation, starting with asking for references from employers that they place their graduates with. You may also check online rating services and reviews and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Call a few Tuscaloosa AL physical therapist clinics or other healthcare facilities that you may be interested in working for and ask if they can give you any recommendations about your college selections. It may also be a good idea to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to see if any complaints have been filed against the colleges.

What is the College's Job Placement Percentage? There are a couple of relevant statistics that you need to find out about each of the physical therapist colleges you are reviewing. First is their graduation rate. A low rate might mean that students left because of dissatisfaction with the program, the instructors, or both. Once 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 Tuscaloosa AL area? If a school has a high job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the healthcare field is good or even exceptional. It also verifies that the school has a wide network of contacts to assist students gain internships or jobs after graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's important that the college you select furnishes both exceptional training and a course of study that supports the licensing requirements for Alabama or the state where you will be working. 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 program. Although licensing requirements differ state by state for PT and PTA graduates, some states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental tests.

Are Internships Offered? Ask if the physical therapy schools you are reviewing have partnerships with Tuscaloosa AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Internships are not only an excellent means to get practical training in a clinical environment, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As a secondary benefit, they can assist graduates and students establish professional connections in the Tuscaloosa medical community and help with job placement once licensed.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the type of person that likes to sit way in the back of class or hide in the crowd, you will undoubtedly want a smaller class size. Small classes enable more individual participation and personalized instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are researching what the typical student to teacher ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may want to monitor one or more classes before making your final determination. This will also give you an opportunity to talk with some of the students and instructors to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapy program also.

Where is the Program Located? For a lot of students, the physical therapy school they choose will have to be within driving distance of their Tuscaloosa AL home. Students who have chosen to attend classes online naturally will not have to worry themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of local internships will be of concern. One thing to keep in mind is that if you decide to enroll in a school that is out of state or perhaps 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 often charge a higher tuition to those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Support Offered? Most DPT schools provide some form of financial assistance to their potential students. Find out if the schools you are examining have a financial aid office and find out what kind of aid is obtainable. At a minimum they should help in securing a student loan or any grants you might be eligible for. A number of physical therapist colleges provide scholarships, while others provide work programs. So before eliminating a school because the tuition is beyond your budget, find out what financial assistance may be available.

Can the Program Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you need to confirm that the physical therapist school you ultimately pick can offer the class schedule you need. This is particularly important if you decide to continue working while you attend classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Tuscaloosa AL area, check that they are offered. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, verify if that is an option and how many credit hours or courses you would have to carry. 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 Tuscaloosa Online Physical Therapist Majors

Choose the Right Tuscaloosa Physical Therapy School

Selecting the best physical therapist school is a necessary first decision you must make to launch a rewarding career in the medical field. As we have covered in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and school you decide on should both have outstanding reputations and be accredited. However there are other critical questions that you should ask regarding your school of choice as well. As you start your search for a physical therapy program keep in mind that numerous factors will lead you to your final decision. You might want to go to different colleges to see their facilities and talk to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this important question: will this college help me achieve my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By following our list of additional questions, you will be able to narrow down the options so you can make the right choice. And with the necessary education and training, you can fulfill your dream to become a practicing physical therapist in Tuscaloosa Alabama.


 

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