How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant in California

California consistently ranks high in terms of PTA salaries. In 2014, it was the second highest-paying state in the nation for licensed physical therapist assistants, who made an average of $64,850 that year.

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In 2014, California was home to the 4th highest number of licensed physical therapist assistants in the nation, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. More specifically, the Los Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale area had the 5th highest number of licensed physical therapist assistants in the nation, with more than 1,100 licensed PTAs employed in that area alone. Even so, the demand for their services is still growing.

Between 2012 and 2022, the State of California Employment Development Department expects the number of physical therapist assistant jobs to increase by 35.6 percent, which translates to about 250 open jobs per year.

Physical therapist assistants in California often find jobs at local hospitals, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers, such as the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLA).

GLA, which is recognized as a national VA Program of Excellence, hosts Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Services which serve 10,000 patients per year through both inpatient and outpatient services. Here, licensed physical therapists provide a variety of PT services to homeless veterans, returning service members, female veterans, and more.

Steps to Earning a Physical Therapist Assistant License in California

When you’re ready to start your career as a physical therapist assistant in California, you’ll begin by meeting the requirements necessary for a license through the Physical Therapy Board of California.

For instruction on how to become a licensed physical therapist assistant in California, follow these simple steps:

Graduate from a CAPTE-Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program
Submit an Application for Examination and Licensure in California
Pass National and California State Licensing Examinations
Start Your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant in California
Complete Continuing Competency Hours to Renew Your License

 


 

Step 1. Graduate from a CAPTE-Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program

Your first step toward earning a California PTA license is to complete an associate’s degree in physical therapist assisting, which includes, but is not limited to:

  • Associate of Science (AS) in Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS) Physical Therapist Assistant

The California Board has approved CAPTE-accredited PTA programs available at schools with campus locations throughout California, including in cities such as these:

  • Los Angeles
  • San Diego
  • Anaheim
  • Pleasant Hill
  • Van Nuys
  • Norwalk
  • Visalia
  • North Hollywood
  • Loma Linda

Most schools design PTA associate’s degrees to include four to five semesters of coursework and clinical work.

Although each school is different, PTA programs generally include courses such as these:

  • Supervised Tutoring in Physical Therapist Training
  • Physical Therapy Introduction
  • Introduction to Human Movement
  • Physical Therapy Techniques
  • Introduction to Pathology
  • Introduction to Therapeutic Exercise
  • Orthopedic Exercise and Rehabilitation

Throughout your program, you will complete a minimum of 500 hours of direct clinical practice. In this clinical practice, you will directly apply and practice the techniques you’ve learned in your coursework, shadow physical therapists, and observe physical therapy in acute settings.

Your school may have specific clinical partners where you will complete your clinical practice. Otherwise, some of California’s top hospitals that offer physical therapy services include:

  • Cedars Sinai Medical Center – Los Angeles
  • Lac + Usc Medical Center – Los Angeles
  • UC Irvine Medical Center – Anaheim
  • AHMB Anaheim Regional Medical Center – Anaheim
  • UC San Diego Medical Center – San Diego

 


 

Step 2. Submit an Application for Examination and Licensure in California

Once you have earned your PTA degree from a CAPTE-accredited school, you will be ready to submit your application for licensure and examination.

By completing this application, you are applying to both take the licensing exams and receive your license after earning passing examination scores.

To complete the application process, submit these documents:

You can send the entire application packet to the Board at their mailing address, which is:

Physical Therapy Board of California
2005 Evergreen St. Suite 1350
Sacramento, California 95815

 


 

Step 3. Pass National and California State Licensing Examinations

The California Board’s examination information outline states that you must pass both the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs and the California Law Examination (CLE) in order to be issued a PTA license.

You will register for both exams with the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT), and you will take both exams at a Prometric testing center.

Prometric testing centers are located in various cities throughout California, including:

  • Diamond Bar
  • San Diego
  • Culver City
  • Anaheim
  • San Francisco
  • Camarillo

National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for PTAs

To take this exam, complete the following steps:

  • Register for the NPTE-PTA through FSBPT and pay $400 registration fee
  • Schedule the NPTE-PTA through Prometric and pay $70 scheduling fee

Before you take the exam, be sure to read through the NPTE Candidate Handbook, which includes information such as:

  • General Information
  • Examination Security
  • Preparing for the Exam
  • Arranging to Take the Exam
  • Rescheduling
  • Content Outlines
  • Sample Questions

This 200-question exam will cover PTA concepts, including, but not limited to, these:

  • PT Data Collection
  • Diseases & Conditions that Impact Effective Treatment
  • Interventions
  • Equipment and Devices
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Safety and Protection
  • Professional Responsibilities
  • Research

Once you pass this exam, FSBPT will send you scores to the California Board.

California Law Examination (CLE)

To take this exam, complete these steps:

One-hour, multiple-choice examination will cover the California Board’s laws, rules, and regulations regarding physical therapy, including the following law documents:

FSBPT will send the Board your exam scores. Once you pass both exams, the Board has 45 days to notify you of your approval or denial. If the Board approves your full application and test scores, you will be issued your California physical therapist assistant license.

 


 

Step 4. Start Your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant in California

Physical therapist assistant jobs are generally found in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes. California organizations that may hire physical therapist assistants include, but are not limited to, these organizations:

  • Looking Forward, Inc. – Los Angeles
  • Valley Hills Physical Therapy – Los Angeles
  • Physical Rehabilitation Network – San Diego
  • Sharp HealthCare – San Diego
  • InSearch Medical – San Diego
  • Protocol Healthcare – San Diego
  • Interface Rehab, Inc. – Oroville
  • AFFIRMA Rehabilitation – Mountain View
  • S. Department of State – Long Beach
  • Rehab Group – Pasadena
  • Loma Linda University – Loma Linda
  • Universal Health Services – Corona
  • Department of Veterans Affairs – Long Beach
  • Ensign Therapy – Huntington Beach

Other physical therapist assistants may join a physical therapist in an independent practice.

 


 

Step 5. Complete Continuing Competency Hours to Renew Your License

In order to renew your license, you will complete 15-30 continuing competency hours during each two-year renewal cycle.

If you are planning to submit your renewal payment on or before your license expiration date, you should complete:

  • Basic Life Support – 4 hours
  • Ethics, Laws, and Regulations – 2 hours
  • Other coursework – 9 hours

If you submit after the license expiration date, you will complete:

  • Basic Life Support – 4 hours
  • Ethics, Laws, and Regulations – 2 hours
  • Other coursework – 24 hours

You can earn continuing competency hours by completing any of the following:

  • Continuing education courses
  • College coursework
  • Attending a conference
  • Attending a board meeting
  • Completing a FSBPT practice review tool
  • Completing training as an expert consultant for the board
  • Performing in a role as a clinical instructor
  • Serving on a board task force
  • Publishing a peer-reviewed journal article, case study, or book chapter

Board-approved continuing competency agencies include, but are not limited to, the following agencies:

  • ABA Physical Therapy Associates – San Mateo
  • GACI – San Diego
  • Scripps Center for Learning & Innovation – San Diego
  • Academy Medical Systems – Bend, OR
  • California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA) – Sacramento
  • Canyon Ridge Physical Therapy – Altadena
  • Cedars – Sinai Medical Center – Los Angeles

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