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How to Select the Right Physical Therapy School Near Vestavia Hills Alabama

Vestavia Hills Alabama physical therapist working with woman holding exercise ballEarning a physical therapy degree near Vestavia Hills AL is an important first step to launching a fulfilling career in the medical care industry. Physical therapists (PT) help individuals who have been disabled as a result of illness or injury regain mobility and function. But before they can practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they must obtain the proper training and education. A PT must also be licensed in all states, a large number mandating that the licensee receive a physical therapy degree from an accredited school. So prior to selecting a physical therapy school, it's essential to evaluate the ones you are considering to make sure they will supply a quality education and meet your state's licensing standards. What you should not do is choose a college just because it happens to be the nearest to your home or it has the lowest tuition. There are other significant qualifications that must be considered along with location and cost. 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 Do Physical Therapists Do?

Vestavia Hills Alabama physical therapist assisting female patient to walk

Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as Vestavia Hills AL private practices, hospitals, assisted living facilities, rehab centers and sports facilities. What the facilities all have in common is that they are equipped for the diagnosis and rehabilitation treatment of patients. As previously touched on, physical therapists help patients that are experiencing a lack of mobility and often pain due to illness or injury. After diagnosing a patient, they design a program of treatment to resolve the mobility issues and lessen or eradicate any pain. They also strive to stop any progression of the disability. Although the causes of disability requiring physical therapy are abundant, they include:

  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Head injuries
  • Heart attacks
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Fire injuries
  • Knee Replacement
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Cerebral Palsy

Licensed physical therapists work in close affiliation with other Vestavia Hills AL health specialists, including chiropractors, physicians, dentists and nurses. They can also manage several physical therapy assistants who work under them in diagnosing and treating their patients. Something to keep in mind for anyone considering entering the physical therapy profession, it is quite physically demanding. Physical therapists often lift patients and heavy equipment, and stand, crouch and kneel for long periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapy Degrees Offered

Vestavia Hills Alabama DPT working with patient in pool

There are 3 physical therapist degree options offered for individuals to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these choices, the single degree that is offered that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees target either preparing students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or readying them to progress to the doctoral level. Below are short descriptions of degrees that are available to prospective students in the Vestavia Hills AL area:

  • Associate Degrees educate students to practice as physical therapy assistants, or can be the first step toward earning a more advanced degree. Applicants must have obtained a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The degrees are most often offered by community or junior colleges, and require two years to complete. 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 therapist education to prepare students to move up to the doctoral level. While they are not required to be eligible for the doctoral program, they are an integral preliminary step to practicing as a PT. Similar to most bachelor's degrees, they generally require 4 years to complete and commonly include an internship program of a minimum of 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are a requirement 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). In addition to the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes three years to finish, making the overall commitment 7 years in most cases. Clinical training is an intregal element in addition to the considerable classroom and lab instruction. Consequently the completion of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in some states for licensing as well.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) has replaced the Master's of Physical Therapy (MPT), which has been phased out and is no longer offered in the United States. Some practicing 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 Colleges

Vestavia Hills Alabama female student taking physical therapist courses onlineWhile not as common as the on-campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy programs available, 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 requires that the student live close to the college campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. Fortunately, the online part of the program can be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Vestavia Hills AL residence. Online programs are not only to some extent more accessible, but in many instances more affordable. Tuition can be somewhat lower than comparable on campus options, and costs for commuting are reduced. And many of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These advantages can make the online alternative the right choice for those students that are disciplined enough to attend classes at home.

Questions to Ask Physical Therapy Programs

At this point you most likely have come to decision concerning a few of your preliminary queries, such as the kind of physical therapy degree you would like to attain, where you want to attend classes, and how much you can afford to invest in your education. But since there are so many PT colleges within the Vestavia Hills AL area and across Alabama, you'll have to explore additional qualifications as well so as to further reduce your list of school choices. Moreover, you need to make certain that you choose the program that is best for you. That's the reason we have put together a list of essential questions that you need to ask the physical therapist colleges you are considering. Ask all of the competing colleges these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.

Is the Physical Therapy College Accredited?  Ask if the programs you are reviewing have received accreditation from a regional or a national agency. As previously mentioned, if you are pursuing a doctorate the program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). If you choose an online college, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's essential that both the physical therapy program and school you enroll in are accredited, not simply the school. Also, verify that the accreditation is through a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting agency. In addition to ensuring that you obtain an excellent education, accreditation may 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 important 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 college's reputation, starting with requesting references from employers that they refer their students to. You can also check online reviews and rating services and ask the accrediting organizations for their reviews as well. Call a few Vestavia Hills AL physical therapy clinics or other medical care facilities that you may have an interest in working for and ask if they can provide any insight about your college options. It may also be a good idea to contact the Alabama Attorney General and school licensing authority to find out if any complaints have been submitted against the schools.

What is the Program's Job Placement Rate? There are a two useful statistics that you should find out about all of the physical therapist programs you are reviewing. First is their graduation rate. A lower rate might mean that students left due to dissatisfaction with the program, the instructors, or both. After the students have graduated, what percentage of them are being hired with the help of the college's job placement program, particularly in the Vestavia Hills AL area? If a program has a higher job placement rate, it's an indication that its reputation within the medical care field is good or even exceptional. It also verifies that the college has a large network of contacts to assist students obtain internships or jobs after graduation.

Does the Program Support Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the college you select furnishes both excellent training and a curriculum that satisfies the licensing requirements 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) along with a degree from an accredited physical therapy program. While licensing requirements differ state by state for PT and PTA graduates, many states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on supplemental exams.

Are Internship Programs Provided? Inquire if the physical therapist colleges you are interested in have associations with Vestavia Hills AL clinics or hospitals for internship programs. Not only are internships an excellent way to get practical training in a clinical setting, they are additionally a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they can assist graduates and students develop professional relationships in the Vestavia Hills healthcare community and help with obtaining employment once licensed.

What are the Class Sizes ? Unless you are the kind of person that prefers to sit far in the back of the classroom or hide in the crowd, you will probably want a smaller class size. Small classes allow for more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist schools you are researching what the average student to teacher ratio is for their classes. If practical you may want to sit in on one or more classes before making your final determination. This will also give you a chance to talk with a few of the instructors and students to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapist program as well.

Where is the School Located? For many students, the physical therapy school they decide on will need to be within travelling distance of their Vestavia Hills AL home. Students who have chosen to attend classes online obviously will not have to worry themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area 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 even out of your local area, you may need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges normally charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges often charge a higher tuition for those students that don't reside within their districts.

Is Financial Assistance Offered? The majority of DPT colleges supply some type of financial support to their prospective students. Find out if the colleges you are examining have a financial assistance office and see what kind of help is available. They at least should help in securing a student loan or any grants you might be eligible for. A number of physical therapy colleges offer scholarships, while others offer work programs. So before eliminating a college because the tuition is beyond your budget, ask what financial assistance may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you need to confirm that the physical therapist college you ultimately pick can furnish the class schedule you need. This is particularly important if you decide to continue working while you attend school. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Vestavia Hills AL area, confirm that they are available. If you can only enroll on a part-time basis, find out if that is an option and how many courses or credit hours you would have to enroll in. Also, ask what the protocol is for making up any classes that you may miss due to illness, work or family obligations.

Learn More About Vestavia Hills Physical Therapist Programs

Enroll in the Best Vestavia Hills Physical Therapist School

Deciding on the ideal physical therapy program is an important initial decision you have to make to start a gratifying career in the medical field. As we have addressed in this article, the PT or DPT degree program and school you pick should both have outstanding reputations and be accredited. But there are additional important questions that you should ask pertaining to your school of choice also. As you commence your search for a physical therapist college keep in mind that numerous factors will guide you to your ultimate decision. You may decide to go to different schools to see their facilities and talk to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this school help me achieve my goal of becoming a practicing licensed physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will be able to narrow down the options so you can make the appropriate selection. And with the proper education and training, you can achieve your dream of becoming a licensed physical therapist in Vestavia Hills Alabama.


 

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