How to Become a Physical Therapist Assistant in California

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are healthcare professionals who are licensed to provide physical therapy services while being supervised by a physical therapist. If you think you would like to work in physical therapy, but don’t want to spend four years or more in school to do so, then you may want to consider becoming a PTA.

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PTAs work with patients helping them to increase their mobility and strength. Their patients may be people who have recently had surgery or those recovering from injuries. They also work with patients who are disabled or elderly patients with limited mobility. They help their patients using therapeutic exercise and functional activities. PTA careers are recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as one of the fastest growing occupations.

California PTA Requirements

The Physical Therapy Board of California is the licensing agency for those who wish to become PTAs in the state. You must be a high school graduate or have a GED before you can apply for licensure. Then, you will need to complete a post-secondary PTA program that is Board approved and that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Other licensing requirements for the state include passing both the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) and the California Law Exam.

Accredited Programs in California

There are several approved and accredited PTA programs offered in California. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sacramento City College. The accredited program at Sacramento City College is a part-time, evening program that can be completed in two years, including summer semesters. General education courses are required before starting the program. Twenty-eight to 30 students are admitted into the program each year.
  • Ohlone College. Located in Newark, Ohlone College has a PTA program that can be completed in two years. Graduates will receive an Associate in Science (AS) degree. General education courses and PTA theory and clinical courses are included in the program. Twenty-four students are admitted to the program annually, and clinicals are done off campus.
  • Cerritos College. Cerritos College in Norwalk has a PTA program that is a combination of PTA and general education courses. Clinical experience begins in the second semester, off campus at local clinics and hospitals. The program can be completed in four semesters, or two years. Students must pass a background check to be eligible to complete the clinical component of the program. Thirty-two students are accepted into the program each year.

How to Get Your PTA License

After you have completed an accredited PTA program in California, you can apply for licensure through the Board. You must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and the California Law Exam, which are both issued through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). You will need to pay a registration and scheduling fee for both exams. The FSBPT will send your exam scores to the Board, and you will be notified whether you passed or not. If you passed, you will receive your license. To renew your license, you must pay a renewal fee biannually before the expiration date and complete 15 continued education credits. If you renew after the expiration date, you will be required to complete 30 continued education credits.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Projections Managing Partnership (PMP), 6,500 PTAs were employed in the state of California in 2016. The number of PTA jobs available in the state is expected to increase by 33.8 percent by the year 2026, meaning there should be approximately 8,700 PTAs working in California by that time. The national growth rate for this profession is 29.2 percent.

PTA salaries will depend on several factors. More experienced PTAs will have higher salaries than those just starting out. PTAs will also have different salaries in different areas of the state. However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for PTAs in the state is $60,780. The highest earners in the state make as much as $81,930 per year.

Finding Work as a PTA in California

The state of California ranks fifth in the U.S. for the highest employment of PTAs. Therefore, finding a job as a PTA in the state should not be difficult. However, the cities that employ the most PTAs in the state are Glendale, Long Beach and Los Angeles. The highest paying cities in the state include Santa Clara, San Jose and Sunnyvale.

PTAs usually work in physical therapy practices, but they also work in hospitals, sports training centers, rehabilitation facilities, nursing home and home health settings. If you would like a career in healthcare where you help people daily and are paid well, consider working as a physical therapist assistant.

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How much do physical therapist assistants earn in the state of California?

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapist assistants in the state of California made an average of $66,150 per year in 2019. Entry-level physical therapist assistants earned around $34,010 and some experienced professionals earned salaries as high as $90,560.

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