Physical therapy programs

by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR

Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.

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From the American Physical Therapy Association

Physical therapists are healthcare professionals who treat patients who are suffering from physical injuries or disabilities by teaching them various therapeutic exercises and activities that strengthen muscles, improve mobility, and relieve pain. Their patients include accident victims and clients with such conditions as burns, amputations, stroke, vertigo, low back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

Physical therapists (PTs) develop a rehabilitation plan and provide ongoing evaluations based on their patients’ activities and progress. PTs assist patients in a wide range of activities ranging from teaching a patient to walk again after an head-injury, to helping an athlete improve his physical performance on the playing field. For a patient recovering from a serious injury or disease, the PT will help reduce the patient's pain, and increase the patient's strength, endurance, and stability. In addition to treatments given in the office, PTs work with the patient to develop a home therapy program.

Physical therapists often work in hospitals, clinics, physician offices, nursing homes, home health agencies, rehabilitation centers, adult daycare programs, or colleges. Admission to physical therapy programs is competitive; to get into your school of choice, focus on earning a high overall grade point average in college (above a 3.3 GPA) and volunteer or work as a physical therapy aide. Some schools require up to 150-hours of clinical experience prior to admission. You'll also need letters of recommendation from physical therapists or science teachers. In addition, most schools require a satisfactory score on Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

All PT programs require a bachelor's degree from an accredited four-year college or university. Prerequisite coursework generally includes:

• General Biology with lab
• Organic Chemistry with lab
• General Physics with lab
• Human Anatomy with lab
• Human Physiology with lab
• Statistics and calculus
• Psychology and social sciences

Curriculum varies from program to program, but in addition to the theory and practice of physical therapy, you'll probably study the basic medical sciences, biomechanics, neuroanatomy, pathology, and rehabilitative procedures. You'll also gain plenty of hands-on experience in a clinical internship.

The majority of physical therapist education programs offer a master’s degree (MPT), and a few schools offer an entry-level clinical doctorate in physical therapy (DPT). Some physical therapists seek advanced certification in a clinical specialty, such as orthopaedic, neurologic, cardiopulmonary, pediatric, geriatric, or sports physical therapy. Others are certified in electrophysiological testing and measurement.

The average master's degree program will take a student 2.5 years to complete. The first year-and-a-half is usually devoted to completing required coursework in a classroom setting and in the last year, students gain experience in a clinical setting.

After graduating from an accredited physical therapy program you must then pass the National Physical Therapist Examination (NPTE). Upon passing the exam you will need to meet any additional requirements your state licensing board may have before they will allow you to practice.

Physical therapy education programs are accredited by The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), which assures quality in physical therapy education. Accreditation status signifies that the program meets established and nationally accepted standards of scope, quality, and relevance.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 Edition: "Employment in Physical Therapy is expected to increase faster than the average, as rapid growth in the number of middle-aged and elderly individuals increases the demand for therapeutic services." Physical Therapists (PTs) play an integral role in the healthcare field, alleviating human physical discomfort through physical means as opposed to drug therapy. Physical therapists specialize in evaluating and treating physical human body disorders, resulting from injury, disease, and any other bodily or mental condition. The primary human systems that physical therapy is concerned with are the: integumentary (skin), musculoskeletal, neuromusculoskeletal, and cardiopulmonary. By focusing on these human systems, physical therapists can provide appropriate therapeutic intervention. Patients include: accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy. Working in conjunction with other healthcare professionals, in addition to patients and their families, physical therapists are responsible for the planning, implementation and evaluation of physical therapy programs.

Graduate level Physical Therapy programs are offered at both the Master's Level (M.S. in Rehabilitation) and doctoral level, Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.). Major course components include: basic and clinical sciences, physical therapy- specific arts and sciences, healthcare administration, research and education. Fostering a holistic approach to physical therapy's rehabilitation services, specific courses are offered in conjunction with occupational therapy and speech language pathology. Clinical practicums are an integral part of Physical Therapy programs, enhancing a student's hands on, problem-solving and assessment abilities. All U.S. states require licensure for practice. Upon acceptance and enrollment in a physical therapy program, students are eligible for membership in the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Depending on your area of interest, research multiple programs to determine which program will fit your needs.

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