A physical therapy assistant (PTA), often referred to as physical therapist assistant, is a licensed professional who provides treatment under the supervision of a physical therapist. Programs that lead to a career as a PTA end in the award of associate's degrees, as all of the California programs do. Curriculum is augmented by practicum requirements, in the form of clinical rotations.
PTA programs are often competitive-entry programs. Though specific requirements vary somewhat by program, common program admissions requirements include completion of prerequisites (typically including anatomy and physiology), cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, a physical exam, a criminal background check, health and/or liability insurance, a drug screen and current immunizations.
Cerritos College, located in Norwalk, offers a four-semester, competitive-entry physical therapy assistant program leading to an associate's degree. Admission to the program is based on a point system, through which the program admissions committee considers applicant academic performance and work experience. Program prerequisites include freshman composition, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, psychology and public speaking. Students complete didactic studies on campus and clinical education at local clinics and hospitals. Cerritos College 2011 program graduates had a pass rate of 100% for the certification exam.
College of the Sequoias
Visalia-based College of the Sequoias offers a full-time physical therapy assistant program that admits 26 students each fall. The associate's degree program consists of four semesters, following the completion of prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology. The curriculum includes lectures, lab courses and 680 hours of clinical education; clinical practicums are integrated into the second and fourth semesters. In addition to typical admission requirements, this program requires applicants to have a California driver's license and auto insurance. Students who graduated from this program in 2012 had a 100% successful employment rate; the same group had a 92% pass rate on the certification exam.
Loma Linda University
Loma Linda University in Loma Linda has a 15-month PTA program that starts the sophomore year. This selective program requires that applicants have completed at least 32 semester units at an accredited college with a minimum GPA of 2.5. Other admission criteria include an essay, interview, letters of recommendation and work experience. Coursework includes neurology, exercise physiology, kinesiology and physical therapy treatment modalities. The program includes significant hands-on experience, with a two-week practicum and three clinical experiences lasting six weeks each.
Ohlone Community College
Located in Fremont, Ohlone Community College (OCC) has a two-year PTA program that includes general education courses, physical therapy courses and clinical education. The selective PTA program admits students in the fall only. Topics of study include kinesiology, pathology, neurological disorders, orthopedics, advanced procedures and physical therapy through the life span. In addition to coursework, students complete two clinical practicum courses as well as an internship. The 2012-2013 OCC catalog reports that OCC physical therapy assistant program graduates have posted 100% pass rates for the last five years.
Sacramento City College
Sacramento City College in San Francisco offers a two-year evening PTA program with daytime clinical courses and one required summer session. Candidates must complete 14.5 semester credits in prerequisites to apply to the program, which admits up to 30 students each year. Courses include kinesiology, physical therapy procedures, therapeutic exercise and nervous system disorders. The program includes two clinical practicum courses.
San Diego Mesa College
About seven miles from downtown San Diego, San Diego Mesa College offers an accredited PTA associate's degree program that takes five semesters to complete. Candidates for the PTA program are chosen based on their performance in prerequisite courses. Students learn how to provide treatment within the PTA scope of practice as well as relevant state physical therapy regulations. Courses include pathology, therapeutic exercise and human movement. In addition to didactic coursework, students complete supervised clinical practice courses, which combined provide about 450 hours of direct experience.
To be a PTA in California, candidates must complete an accredited two-year PTA or equivalent program. Training needs to include studies in anatomy and physiology as well as clinical education. Upon completion of training, candidates must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapy assistants and a state-specific exam on laws related to physical therapy professional practice. The Physical Therapy Board of California issues PTA licenses to candidates who fulfill these requirements.
The six profiled public and private, not-for-profit California schools offer PTA programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) and prepare students to take the required licensure exams.
School Comparison: At a Glance
|School Name||School Type & Setting||Physical Therapy Assistant Programs Offered||Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2015-2016)|
|Cerritos College||Two-year, public; large suburb||Associate in Arts in Physical Therapy Assistant|| $1,346 in-state;
|College of the Sequoias||Two-year, public; midsize city||Associate of Science in Physical Therapy Assistant|| $1,388 in-state,
|Loma Linda University||Four-year, private not-for-profit; large suburb||Associate in Science in Physical Therapy Assistant||$32,572*|
|Ohlone Community College||Two-year, public; large suburb||Associate in Science in Physical Therapy Assistant|| $1,162 in-state,
|Sacramento City College||Two-year, public; large city||Associate in Science in Physical Therapy Assistant|| $1,104 in-state;
|San Diego Mesa College||Two-year, public; large city||Associate in Science in Physical Therapy Assistant|| $1,142 in-state,
Source: *NCES School Navigator