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What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as Alaska hospitals, health clinics, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and health clubs. What the facilities all share in common is that they have the equipment for diagnosing and rehabilitating patients. As previously mentioned, physical therapists help people that are experiencing a lack of mobility and in many cases pain caused by injury or illness. After diagnosing a patient, they design a program of treatment to address the mobility problems and lessen or eradicate any pain. They also endeavor to stop any progression of the disability. Although the causes of disability necessitating physical therapy are numerous, they include:
- Osteoporosis and Arthritis
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Heart attacks
- Sports injuries
- Burn injuries
- Hip Replacement
- Multiple Sclerosis
Licensed physical therapists practice in close association with other AK health professionals, including chiropractors, physicians, registered nurses and dentists. They can also supervise one or more physical therapy assistants who work under them in diagnosing and treating their patients. One thing to bear in mind for anyone considering going into the physical therapy profession, it is rather physically demanding. Physical therapists regularly lift patients and heavy equipment, and kneel, crouch and stand for extended periods of time on a daily basis.
Physical Therapy Degree Options
There are 3 physical therapist degrees available for individuals to pursue at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of these options, the only degree that is attainable 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 advance to the doctoral level. Following are brief descriptions of degree levels that are available to prospective students in Alaska:
- Associate Degrees educate students to practice as physical therapy assistants, or may be the first step toward earning a more advanced degree. Candidates must have a high school diploma or GED to qualify for enrollment. The programs are usually provided by junior or community colleges, and take about 2 years for completion. An internship or other form of clinical training is normally a portion of the program.
- Bachelor's Degrees are designed as pre-physical therapy education to ready students to advance to the doctoral level. While they are not required 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 normally take 4 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 three years to finish, making the total investment of time seven years in most cases. Clinical or practical training is an intregal element in addition to the considerable classroom and lab instruction. Therefor the fulfillment of an internship is mandated, not only 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 eliminated and is no longer available in the United States. A number of practicing physical therapists having a master's or even a bachelor's degree were "grandfathered" in prior to the present licensing mandate for a doctorate was instituted.
Physical Therapy Online Degrees
While not as prevalent as the on campus alternatives, there are a number of accredited online physical therapy degrees offered, even more at the graduate level. Because of the hands-on structure of the training, clinical lab work and internships are incorporated with the online classes. This necessitates that the student live near the college campus or in proximity of a sponsored internship. However, the online portion of the curriculum may be accessed within the comfort and convenience of the student's Alaska home. Online schools are not only to some extent more accessible, but in many instances more affordable. Tuition can be significantly less than comparable on campus options, and expenses for commuting are reduced. And many of the online schools are accredited by the CAPTE, guaranteeing a quality education. These advantages may make the online option the best choice for those students that are disciplined enough to learn at home.