Becoming a Physical Therapist in Alabama – AL
About 107,000 physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) ply their trade in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2006 report. The majority of PTs, and their associates PTAs are female, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and they enjoy a very low unemployment rate and very healthy salary. Of the more than 72,000 members of the APTA, over 850 work in Alabama. They and the state’s PTAs help Alabama residents restore their mobility, eliminate pain, avoid injury and help athletes achieve their best performance, according to the APTA’s affiliate, Physical Therapy Alabama.
The APTA cites a low national unemployment rate (0.2 %) for PTs, who can find work in hospitals, clinics, schools, hospices, fitness centers, nursing homes, offices, rehab centers and even private homes.
CNNMoney ranked PT careers as 7th best for pay and growth potential. There’s a lot of schooling and hard work required to become a PT, but the rewards, as well as the gratitude of relieved patients make it all worthwhile.
How to Become a Physical Therapist in Alabama
The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accredits physical therapy and physical therapy assistant programs. After high school, whatever higher-level learning you seek must be accredited in order to pursue your license to practice in Alabama.
APTA counts 234 accredited PTA programs in the U.S. These community or technical colleges and universities require two years of study to graduate with an associate’s degree. Note that to enroll in a university to become a PT, you generally need to have a bachelor’s degree or at least have completed part of an undergraduate degree. So working towards your PTA license is not likely to move you towards becoming a PT.
To become a PT, you must matriculate into a master’s or doctorate program in physical therapy. While requirements vary from school to school, you generally want to achieve a high grade point average (GPA) and do well in a variety of science and math courses, including biology, chemistry, statistics, psychology and anatomy.
To earn a master’s degree in physical therapy (MPT, MSPT or MS), apply to one of the 68 master’s programs in the country. To become a doctor of physical therapy (DPT), apply to one of the 142 programs in America.
For either degree, check the requirements carefully and be sure to compare many schools. Some allow you to apply before you’ve completed your undergraduate work, while others will admit you before you finish, provided you meet their GPA, class work and other requirements.
APTA, which compiles the above information, believes that in a decade, most PTs will have doctorates. Both the master and doctorate programs require between six and nine semesters of classes to graduate.
(Incidentally, U.S. News and World Report ranked University of Alabama’s-Birmingham graduate physical therapy program number 29 in their 2008 list of the top 85 programs.)
As graduation approaches, begin collecting recommendations from teachers or professional PTs or PTAs with whom you have worked. An internship with a physical therapy clinic will give you invaluable experience and introduce you to professionals who may help you in your career goals, including vouching for your good character, professional attitude and knowledge of the subject. The Alabama licensing board requires you to be of good moral character, which may include an analysis of your professional conduct during your internship or schooling. You will be asked to submit character reference forms along with your application and the fee.
There are two exams you must pass. The jurisprudence exam will test your knowledge of Alabama-specific laws and regulations concerning the PT industry. The other exam is handled by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and you can take the computer-based test anywhere in the country. The PT exam takes five hours for 200 scored questions and the PTA exam takes four hours for 150 scored questions. (Additional, unscored questions are included to help the FSBPT improve future tests.)
While you are awaiting the results of your exam, you can seek a temporary license, which allows you to practice physical therapy until the results come in. The FSBPT submits your score directly to the Alabama Board of Physical Therapy.
Provided you did well on the exam and your application (and moral character) are in good order, you will receive your PT or PTA license from the state of Alabama.