How to Become a Physical Therapy Assistant in California

Career Overview

Physical therapy assistants (PTAs) work under the supervision of physical therapists to assist patients who are recovering from accidents, illness, stroke or surgery to regain mobility and manage pain.

Duties of physical therapy assistants include:

  • Under supervision of a physical therapist, provide therapy through exercise, electrical stimulation of affected muscles, mechanical traction and ultrasound.
  • Observe patients during therapy and report problems or  progress to physical therapist
  • Massage or stretch limbs to improve mobility
  • Use assistive devices such as wheelchairs and walkers to help patients walk and move about
  • Educate patients and their families on follow-up care
  • Promote  wellness as it related to movement and overall health

Education and Training

Most states, including California, require physical therapy assistants to have an associate’s degree from an accredited physical therapy program.  As of 2012 there are 298 physical therapy assistant programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education CAPTE).

For a listing of accredited programs in California visit this CAPTE listing

Browse our list of California Trade Schools which include programs for physical therapy assistants.

Programs consist of two parts: academic study and clinical experience. Academic study will include courses in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics mathematics and behavioral science. Clinical study will include certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other first aid procedures, as well as direct patient care in affiliated treatment facilities.

Many physical therapy assistants continue their education to obtain a bachelor’s degree and become licensed physical therapists to be eligible for leadership and teaching positions.  It is quite possible that  physical therapy assistants can enroll in a tuition reimbursement program for their bachelor’s degree and have a significant portion (if not all) of their school fees covered by their employer.

Licensing

Most states, including California, require physical therapy assistants to be licensed. Licensure typically involves graduation from an accredited PTA program and passing the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) administered by The Federal of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).  As per the FSBPT, the purpose of the NPTE is….to assess your basic entry-level competence after graduation from an accredited program or from an equivalent non-accredited program.

The FSPBT develops, maintains and administers the NPTE for two reasons:

1. To help ensure that only those individuals who have the requisite knowledge of physical therapy are licensed in the physical therapy field.

2. To help regulatory authorities evaluate candidates and provide standards that are comparable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Content of exam: The exam consists of 150 multiple choice items divided into three main areas: 1) Clinical applications of physical therapy; 2) Data collection and interventions; 3) Safety, Protection and Professional Roles.

As per the PTBC…. This test is designed to measure whether or not an examinee has the requisite knowledge and skills required of entry-level physical therapist assistants working under the supervision of a physical therapist. The focus is on the clinical application of knowledge, concepts and principles necessary for the provision of safe and effective patient care consistent with the principles of best practice.

For a step-by-step guide in registering for the NPTE, including deadlines and fees, visit: https://www.fsbpt.org/Secondary-Pages/Exam-Candidates/NationalExam(NPTE)/RegistrationProcess

Process for PTA licensure in California via the NPTE:

  • Students first need to apply for state licensure via The Department of Consumer Affairs Physical Therapy Board of California.  (PTBC). Before applying to the PTBC you must have graduated from an accredited PTA program and have in your possession a completed Certificate of Completion Form (P1E) (bearing the seal of your school registrar). The P1E form must remain in a sealed envelope and be submitted with the application
  • All applicants for licensure are required to take and pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) (Physical Therapist or Physical Therapist Assistant Examination) and the California Law Examination (CLE), which relates to the practice of physical therapy in California. The CLE is a one-hour multiple-choice examination and covers laws and regulations related to the practice of physical therapy in California.
  • Once the PTBC has confirmed you are eligible to sit for the NPTE, it will send you registration materials to sit for the exam and submit your name to the FSBPT.
  • The FSBPT will then send you an “Authorization to Test” letter containing specific instruction on how to schedule an appointment with a prometric testing center. To locate a testing center near you visit https://securereg3.prometric.com/Welcome.aspx

For application details, including fees and all supporting documents needed, visit: http://www.ptbc.ca.gov/applicants/pta_apps.shtml

CLE (Jurisdiction exam)

As per the FSBPT…A jurisprudence exam is a test of your state’s laws and rules. All licensed physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) should be familiar with the practice act and rules under which they are allowed to work. The FSBPT develops, maintains and administers jurisprudence exams for eight jurisdictions, including California. The policies and procedures for exam registration are the same as for the NPTE.

For information on registering for the CLEA exam visit: http://www.fsbpt.org/ExamCandidates/JurisprudenceExam.aspx

For further information regarding the laws and regulations concerning physical therapy assistant practice in California read the Reference Guide to the Laws & Regulations Governing the Practice of Physical Therapy (Article 4)

Earnings

Below is a chart of salary ranges for licensed physical therapy assistants with less than one year of experience in select California cities.

Fresno $87,014
Los Angeles $97,756
Sacramento $93,866
San Diego $93,368
San Francisco $108,811