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The Steps to Getting a California Physical Therapy License

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California: the land of plenty in a lot of ways. Beautiful mountains, forests, and beaches. Big cities, small towns, great weather. The food. Oh, the food. And of course, if you’re a travel physical therapist, it’s basically a gold mine for PT jobs. But getting the initial licensure has a reputation for being such a long, arduous, and expensive process that some therapists consider if it’s even worth it. While it is a much more cumbersome process than a lot of other states, I really do think getting licensed to work in California is so worth it to have access to such a wide variety of settings, locations, and availability of jobs. The pay doesn’t hurt, either! While it can be intimidating to start this license, I do recommend that every travel therapist consider it.

Application Summary

Application fee: $300 (fee for application only – does not include initial licensure fee)

Total fees for Initial License can vary anywhere from $723 – $741

6 steps to getting a California PT license as follows

  1. Pass the California Law Examination (CAL-Law)
  2. Begin the online application process on BreEZe
  3. Request that your school complete the Certificate of Completion (P1E) as proof of a completion of a physical therapy program from a CAPTE accredited institution, including any clinical or internship requirements requirements OR for foreign-trained therapists, a Certificate of Professional Degree Equivalency (P1F) that states that the program has been evaluated to meet the same educational and clinical requirements of a CAPTE accredited program, plus proof of passing the TOEFL exam, plus a US Social Security Number
  4. Submit proof of passing the NPTE exam
  5. Complete fingerprinting for background checks
  6. Submit a passport-style photo
  7. Verify other state licenses as necessary

Application Process

1. Pass the CAL-Law Exam

The part of the California PT license that everyone tends to dread is the California Law Examination, so it’s best to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. Unlike some jurisprudence exams in other states, this one actually needs to be planned out fairly well as you have to schedule a time to go to a testing center and take it in person. It’s also not an open-book test, so it does require some studying and preparation. And while most people are able to pass this test, I have known several therapists who failed it on their first try (mostly due to not realizing that they needed to take it seriously). Don’t let this be you!

There is a wealth of both free and paid study materials online. The test consists of 50 questions and you are allotted one hour to complete it. You are also allowed testing accommodations if you have a disability that may impact your testing ability. To register for the CAL-Law exam, apply through the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). Within 3-5 business days, they will send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) letter by email (similar to taking the NPTE). There are testing centers located all across the country, so once you have your ATT you should be able to schedule a time to test at a location near you.

Once you take the test, the Federation will automatically send PTBC your scores; you can also access your scores for your own information online. As you will find as you move throughout the licensure process, you will find that there are many areas where you will be charged a fee; this is one of them. The Federation charges $65 for the exam and the Prometric testing center will charge $25 to proctor it.

2. Begin The Application Process on BreEZe

After registering for the jurisprudence exam, you’ll want to sign up for an account on BreEZe, which is a system the state of California uses to license most professions. Once you are signed up for an account, the system will direct you to the PT license application which will ask for basic demographic info and some of your work or fieldwork history. This part of the process is fairly quick and painless.

3. Send an Official P1E

Once you have filled out your basic info, the application will give you instructions on how to send the Physical Therapy Board of California (PTBC) an official Certificate of Completion (P1E) from your program. This certificate just states that you have finished a program that meets all of the requirements of a CAPTE accredited program, similar to an official transcript. Since it’s an official document, you will be required to send a sealed copy. It’s possible that you still may have a sealed, official copy if you are a recent grad, in which case you can mail it directly to PTBC. If you don’t, you’ll need to request that your school send a copy directly to PTBC.

Different schools have different processes for this, but most these days allow you to make a request online on the school’s website. If you can’t find this information, contact your college registrar or program director. Keep in mind that while some schools may offer this service for free, others may charge a small fee.

4. Submit Proof of Passing the NPTE

You’ll also be required to submit proof of passing the NPTE exam. To do this, simply hop back on the Federation’s website and request an NPTE score transfer report which they will send to PTBC electronically. This article assumes you’ve already passed the exam and hold licensure in at least one other state, but if California is your first license the process doesn’t change much. You will actually be able to register for the CAL-Law exam and the NPTE at the same time on the Federation’s website. Be aware that unless this is your first license, this is another place where you will have to pay a fee. The Federation currently charges $90 for an electronic score transfer.

5. Fingerprinting

There are two methods by which you can complete fingerprinting. If you’re already in California, the PTBC requires that you complete a LiveScan. But honestly, even if you’re just relatively close to California, I highly recommend you go there and do a LiveScan anyway. This is a service offered by the state that involves taking digital fingerprints as opposed to traditional ink and paper forms (hard cards). I prefer this method because you’re less likely to run into errors (such as ink smudging and being unreadable) and the processing time is also very quick (less than 72 hours).

Now, if you’re 2000 miles away like I was when I first applied for licensure, this probably isn’t a feasible option. This means your license may take a little longer, but shouldn’t delay your license if everything is processed correctly. I do recommend going somewhere to get your fingerprints done that have a lot of experience doing this to prevent any difficulties or delays. Most experienced fingerprinters will know what the form needs to look like to ensure that it can be read correctly. To get the hard cards, you can simply check a box on your online application and PTBC will mail them to you. This is another place where you will be charged a fee. If you go the traditional route, you’ll be charged a processing fee of $49 by PTBC plus whatever the store/agency charges to do fingerprints ($17 for me at the time in Kentucky).

If you go for the LiveScan, you’ll pay the same amount for the LiveScan background check charges (typically $32 for DOJ and $17 for the FBI) and whatever the store/agency charges for completing the LiveScan ($35 for me when I completed one recently). Something worth pointing out here as well is that in addition to the licensure background check requirements, many California companies and facilities require this as well and surprise surprise, they do NOT communicate with each other. For example, on my most recent contract, despite already having a California license, I had to complete two LiveScans: one for the new travel company I was working for, and one for the school district. These are typically reimbursable expenses, but it is something to keep in mind as far as managing your time goes – if you have multiple fingerprint requests, try to take care of them all at the same time.

6. Send a Passport Style Photo

Along with the rest of the application, you will also be required to send a photo of yourself to PTBC. This should be a 2 by 2 passport-style photo taken within the last 30 days. If you need to get physical fingerprints done, it’s likely you can find a place that does passport photos as well and kill two birds with one stone. When I did this, the cost was $15 for two copies of the picture. Since they allow you to submit this photo digitally, I have also heard of some therapists creating their own passport-style photo by following the requirements, but personally I wouldn’t want to risk a delay due to my homemade photo not being accepted.

7. Verify Other State Licences

Last but maybe not least, PTBC will need to verify with all of the other states where you have ever held a PT license. Yes, this includes licenses that are now inactive, expired, or canceled. If you’re a first-time traveler, you may only have 1 or 2 so this will probably be pretty easy. But if you’ve been in the traveling game for a while, this part of the process could take a while. PTBC will verify this information electronically using the information you give in the application.

It is possible that this part of the process may take the longest, especially if you have licenses where the state boards aren’t known for their speediness. If you are unsure where the hold up is, someone at PTBC should be able to tell you if this is the part of the application they are waiting on and may even share what state they are waiting to hear back from so that you can contact them as well. The good news is that PTBC starts to process your application as soon as you submit it, so if you do end up waiting on license verifications from other states, once they come through your application should be swiftly approved.

Once the online portion of the application is complete, make sure you mail in anything that you need to send physically, such as a fingerprint hard card. If you are mailing fingerprints, it’s probably worth it to purchase a nice manilla envelope and a couple of stamps, which, while small compared to some of the other fees, will probably cost you a couple of bucks.
Application Timeline and Follow-up

Wait Time

Once everything is submitted, PTBC will grant a license within 45 days as long as there are no issues with the application. While this is longer than some states, it definitely shouldn’t take months and months as some therapists assume. But, since it does take a little longer, it’s important to submit everything as quickly and accurately as possible that way you don’t run into any delays.

Once your license is approved, you have one last step: pay the actual license fee. The initial license fee for everyone is $150. Your initial license will then be good for up to two years, but it may be less than this as it expires on the last day of your birth month within the renewal period. So for example, if your license is approved in January 2020, and you were born in November, your first renewal will be due on November 30th, 2021, giving you an initial licensure period of 23 months. But if your birthday is in March, your license will be due on March 31st, 2021, which only amounts to 15 months. The initial fee of $150 doesn’t change regardless of how long the license will last. At your first renewal, you’ll then pay a fee of $300 which is also static no matter how long you had the initial license. But after the initial licensure period, all subsequent renewals will be good for the full two year period.

Cost Breakdown

So, if you’ve been following along with a calculator at home, you’ll probably notice that this is one of the more expensive licenses in the country, but let’s look at the actual total cost you will be likely to pay:

Application Fee: $300
CAL-Law Exam: $90
Official Certificate of Completion form (estimate, paid to school): $10
NPTE Electronic Score Verification: $90
Fingerprint Processing Fee: $49
Fingerprint Rolling Charge: $17 – $35
Passport Photo: $15
Envelope and Stamps: $2
Initial Licensure Fee: $150
Total for Initial License: $723 – $741

So, while it is obviously a very expensive license, I do think that you will recoup your costs just by the sheer availability of high-paying jobs out here. Even with the cost-of-living differences in some cities, the pay still ends up being very lucrative and competitive. And at the end of the day, you get to live in a beautiful state that offers infinite possibilities for after-work exploring, weekend trips, and vacation travel.

Have you worked as a travel therapist in California?

Author Bio:

Devon graduated with a B.S. in Health Science from Spalding University in 2014. She continued on at Spalding to finish her M.S. in Occupational Therapy in 2015. Devon presented her master’s research project, Strategies to Promote Safe, Healthy, and Appropriate Sexual Behavior in Individuals with Disabilities, at the AOTA conference in 2016. Devon’s primary clinical experience is with the pediatric population, which she has served in a variety of settings including outpatient, early intervention, and the public school system. She has additional experience working with adults with developmental disabilities as well as in skilled nursing and home health settings.

Beyond clinical practice, Devon also enjoys writing and educating other therapists through continuing education courses, test prep questions, and blog posts. She enjoys many aspects of occupational therapy; her current subject interests include assistive technology, executive function, and program development. In her personal time, Devon enjoys board games, hunting down great restaurants, and community building. She has been a travel therapist for a year and a half now and has no intention of stopping. You can learn more about Devon at her website https://devonbreithart.com/.

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