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

Vestavia Hills Alabama physical therapist working with female patient holding balance ballGetting a physical therapist degree near Vestavia Hills AL is an important first step to launching a rewarding career in the health care field. Physical therapists (PT) help people who have been debilitated as a result of illness or injury regain mobility and function. But before they may legally practice and work with the rehabilitation of patients, they must get the proper education and training. A PT must additionally become licensed in every state, many requiring that the licensee hold a physical therapy degree from an accredited college. So prior to enrolling in a physical therapy school, it's necessary to investigate those you are looking at to make sure they will deliver a superior education and meet your state's licensing standards. What you should not do is choose a college just because it happens to be the closest to your residence or it has cheapest tuition. There are other relevant qualifications that must be evaluated along with cost and location. But before we discuss 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?

Vestavia Hills Alabama physical therapist assisting woman to walk

Physical therapists practice in a variety of locations, including Vestavia Hills AL private practices, hospitals, 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 mentioned, physical therapists help people that are suffering from a lack of mobility and in many cases pain due to injury or illness. After patient diagnosis, they develop a course of treatment to address the mobility issues and reduce or eradicate any pain. They also try to prevent any progression of the disability. Though the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:

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

Licensed physical therapists work in close partnerships with other Vestavia Hills AL medical specialists, including doctors, chiropractors, registered nurses and dentists. They may also manage one or more physical therapy assistants who work under them in the diagnosis and treatment of their patients. One thing to bear in mind for anyone considering going into the physical therapy profession, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists routinely lift heavy equipment as well as patients, and stand, crouch and kneel for prolonged periods of time on a daily basis.

Physical Therapist Degrees Available

Vestavia Hills Alabama physical therapist working with man in pool

There are three physical therapy degree options available for individuals to enroll in at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Of these options, the single degree that is available that qualifies the graduate to practice as a physical therapist is the doctorate. Undergraduate degrees concentrate on either training students to become a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or prepping them to advance to the doctoral level. Below are short descriptions of degree levels that are available to prospective students in the Vestavia Hills AL area:

  • Associate Degrees train students to be 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 be accepted for enrollment. The programs are typically made available by community colleges, and take about two years to complete. An internship or other form of clinical training is normally a portion of the curriculum.
  • Bachelor's Degrees are created as pre-physical therapy training to ready students to progress to the doctoral level. While they are not a requirement to be qualified for the doctoral program, they are an integral initial step to becoming a PT. As with most bachelor's degrees, they generally take four years to finish and usually include an internship program of at least 500 hours.
  • Doctorate Degrees are a requirement 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). After earning the bachelor's degree, the doctoral takes 3 years to finish, making the overall investment of time seven years in the majority of cases. Clinical or practical training is an intregal element in addition to the substantial classroom and lab instruction. Consequently the completion of an internship is required, not just for graduation but in some 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 eliminated and is no longer attainable in the USA. Some licensed physical therapists holding a master's or in some cases a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in before the existing licensing requirement for a doctorate was instituted.

Physical Therapy Online Schools

Vestavia Hills Alabama female student taking physical therapy courses onlineWhile not as prevalent as the on-campus options, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy programs offered, more so at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on nature of the training, internships and clinical lab work are combined with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live close to the school campus or nearby an available internship. However, the online part of the curriculum can be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Vestavia Hills AL home. Online schools are not only to some extent more accessible, but in many instances more economical. Tuition might be somewhat less than comparable on-campus alternatives, and expenditures for commuting are minimized. And a number of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, assuring a quality education. These benefits may make the online option the ideal choice for those students that are dedicated enough to learn at home.

What to Ask Physical Therapy Colleges

By now you probably have made a decision regarding several of your initial questions, including the kind of physical therapist degree you intend to obtain, where you want to attend classes, and how much you can afford to invest in your education. But because there are so many PT colleges within the Vestavia Hills AL area and across Alabama, you'll need to explore additional qualifications as well so as to further narrow your list of school options. Moreover, you want to make sure that you enroll in the college that is best for you. That's the reason we have collected a list of important questions that you need to ask the physical therapy programs you are thinking about. Ask all of the competing colleges these questions prior to making an ultimate decision.

Is the Physical Therapist Program Accredited?  Ask if the programs 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 select an online college, it can also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council. It's essential that both the physical therapy program and school you select are accredited, not simply the school. Additionally, make sure that the accreditation is from a U.S. Department of Education acknowledged accrediting organization. Along with ensuring that you receive a quality education, accreditation may be required for state licensing and even for getting student loans or financial assistance.

What is the College's Standing? Along with accreditation, it's essential that the school and program you select have excellent reputations within the physical therapy community. There are several ways you can research a PT college'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 agencies for their reviews as well. Call several Vestavia Hills AL physical therapy centers or other healthcare facilities that you might have an interest in working for and ask if they can give you any recommendations about your school 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 submitted against the schools.

What is the School's Job Placement Rate? There are a two significant statistics that you should find out about each of the physical therapist programs you are considering. One is their graduation rate. A low rate may indicate that students left because of dissatisfaction with the program, the teachers, or both. Once 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 high job placement rate, it suggests that its reputation within the medical care field is good or perhaps outstanding. It also affirms that the program has a large network of contacts to help students gain internships or employment upon graduation.

Does the College Support Licensing Requirements? It's imperative that the college you enroll in provides both exceptional training and a course of study that satisfies 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 therapy program. While licensing requirements fluctuate state by state for PT and PTA graduates, a number of states require a minimum amount of clinical hours be completed and passing scores on additional exams.

Are Internship Programs Sponsored? Ask if the physical therapist programs you are evaluating have partnerships with Vestavia Hills AL hospitals or clinics for internship programs. Internships are not only a terrific means to receive hands on training in a clinical environment, they are also a requirement for most PT programs and state licensing. As an ancillary benefit, they can help students and graduates establish professional connections in the Vestavia Hills medical community and help with obtaining employment once licensed.

What Size are the Classes ? Unless you are the sort of student that likes to sit way in the back of the classroom or hide in the crowd, you will likely want a smaller class size. Small classes enable more individual participation and one-on-one instruction. Ask the physical therapist colleges you are reviewing what the average teacher to student ratio is for their classrooms. If practical you may prefer to monitor one or more classes before making your ultimate determination. This will also give you a chance to talk with some of the students and instructors to get their perspectives regarding the physical therapist program as well.

Where is the Program Located? For many students, the physical therapist school they pick will have to be within travelling distance of their Vestavia Hills AL residence. Students who have opted to attend classes online obviously will not have to concern themselves with the location of the campus. However, the availability of area internships will be of importance. Something to keep in mind is that if you decide to enroll in a program that is out of state or even out of your local area, you might need to pay a higher tuition. State colleges generally charge higher tuitions for out of state residents. And community colleges commonly charge a higher tuition to those students that live outside of their districts.

Is Financial Aid Provided? The majority of DPT colleges supply some form of financial assistance to their potential students. Inquire if the schools you are considering have a financial aid department and see what kind of aid is available. They at least should help in securing a student loan or any grants you might 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, find out what financial aid may be available.

Can the College Accommodate your Schedule? And finally you must verify that the physical therapist program you finally choose can provide the class schedule you need. This is particularly important if you decide to continue working while attending classes. If you must schedule evening or weekend classes in the Vestavia Hills AL area, make certain that they are available. 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 need to enroll in. Also, ask what the procedure is for making up any classes that you may miss due to work, illness or family obligations.

Find Out More About Vestavia Hills Physical Therapy Programs

Choose the Best Vestavia Hills Physical Therapy School

Picking the ideal physical therapist school is a necessary initial decision you need to make to start a rewarding career in the medical profession. As we have addressed in this article, the DPT or PT degree program and school you decide on should both have excellent reputations and accreditation. However there are additional relevant questions that you need to ask concerning your school of choice as well. As you begin your search for a physical therapy college keep in mind that many factors will guide you toward your final decision. You might decide to visit different colleges to view their facilities and speak to current DPT students. While there, ask yourself this critical question: will this college help me achieve my goal of becoming a licensed practicing physical therapist? By following our list of supplemental questions, you will have the ability to narrow down the field so you can make the ideal choice. And with the necessary education and training, you can achieve your dream to become a licensed physical therapist in Vestavia Hills Alabama.


 

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