California Physical Therapy and Physical Therapy Assistant License and Certification

Last year there were nearly 16,000 licensed physical therapists practicing in California, earning an average yearly salary of over $91,000. Besides working in the state with the largest number of physical therapists in the nation, PT professionals in California are also working in an field that is growing far more rapidly than average. Future demand for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants in the Golden State is also projected to rise as more residents gain access to health insurance and grow older.

As you work your way through the following steps to become a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant in California, you will be dealing with the state’s Physical Therapy Board, a branch of the Department of Consumer Affairs. The State of California requires all its PTs and PTAs to complete the following requirements:

  • Step 1: Complete a Physical Therapy Education Program
  • Step 2: Submit an Application for Licensure to the California Physical Therapy Board
  • Step 3: Complete California Testing Requirements
  • Step 4: Renew Your License

Step 1: Complete a Physical Therapy Education Program

Your first step to become a physical therapy assistant or physical therapist in California is to graduate from a state-approved PT or PTA education program. There are currently 14 PT and 11 PTA programs offering qualifying degrees and certifications for licensure across the state. A typical school or college of physical therapy will offer courses such as:

  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Neuroscience
    • Pathophysiology
  • Clinical practicums
  • Pharmacology
  • Diagnostic imaging

Once you graduate from your respective PT or PTA program, your school must issue you a Certificate of Completion – P1E Form. You will be required to submit this form later with your application for licensure.

PTAs may be able to qualify for a license to practice in California if they can meet the following three alternative pathway requirements:

  • Have at least 30 credits in technical physical therapy training
  • 15 credits of general education
  • Three years of work experience under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist in California

Step 2: Submit an Application for Licensure to the California Physical Therapy Board

Once you have graduated from your program of education you will be ready to fill out an application for licensure. A complete application will include:

Your initial application will also be your key to taking the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE). Once the state Physical Therapy Board determines that you are eligible to take the NPTE – based on a complete and qualified application – it will notify the exam’s sponsoring agency, which will in turn allow you to register for the NPTE.

If you are already a licensed PT or PTA in a different state, you will still need to provide a P1E Form, as well as proof of your out-of-state license and your score on the NPTE.

Step 3: Complete California Testing Requirements

You will need to complete two examinations to receive your license from the California Physical Therapy Board:

  • California Law Examination – CAL-LAW
  • National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)

You can register and take both these exams through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
(FSBPT). These examinations are offered at Prometric testing locations throughout the state and country.

California Law Examination – CAL-LAW

The California Law Examination, also known as CAL-LAW, is a short test that ensures you understand the state laws and regulations which govern your practice as a PT or PTA. You will have one hour to complete this exam, which is comprised of multiple-choice questions on topics covered in:

National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)

The NPTE is offered for both physical therapists and physical therapy assistants:

These exams assess your knowledge of the essential areas pertaining to the field of physical therapy, including:

Practice-specific roles, function, and treatments

  • Lymphatic system
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary system
  • Neuromuscular and nervous systems
  • Musculoskeletal system
  • Other important body systems
  • Therapeutic options, devices, and equipment
  • Intervention options

Step 4: Renew Your License

Your license is valid for two years and expires at the end of your birth month. You will receive a renewal notice approximately three months before your license expires, and you should keep in mind that it can take up to six weeks to process your renewal application. You can renew your license with a paper application or online.

Continuing competency hours are an important part of renewing your PT or PTA license. These must be earned during the two years for which your current license is valid. These requirements are the same for both PTs and PTAs. To renew your first license you must complete 15 hours of continuing competency education, including:

  • 4 hours related to basic life support
  • 2 hours related to ethics, laws, and regulations
  • 9 hours of other coursework or activities

As you develop your career as a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant in California, you may find information regarding employment opportunities and continuing competency opportunities through associations such as the California Physical Therapy Association (CPTA).