Clinician perception of the impact of deployed physical therapists as physician extenders in a combat environment

Mil Med. 2010 May;175(5):305-12. doi: 10.7205/milmed-d-09-00099.


Physical therapists (PTs) serve as physician extenders performing direct access evaluations for musculoskeletal conditions. The previous war-time mission of PTs was limited to level III medical care. Recently PTs began providing care at levels I/II with brigade combat teams (BCTs).

Purpose: Determine the sentiment of battlefield providers at levels I/II regarding the operational impact of PTs.

Methods: Surveys were provided to BCT medical providers.

Results: There were 107 responses (response rate of 51%). According to the responses, PTs made a significant impact on overall mission accomplishment (97%) and patient prognosis (83%) and were considered local experts in musculoskeletal pathology (92%), including the ordering of radiographs (79%). Their presence was thought to significantly decrease medical evacuations within theater (68%) and out of theater (73%).

Conclusion: There was a positive sentiment toward PTs in the BCT, suggesting they are highly valued. Future studies need to clarify further operational, medical, and fiscal implications.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Iraq / epidemiology
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011*
  • Military Medicine* / organization & administration
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy
  • Physical Therapy Specialty* / organization & administration
  • Physician Assistants / organization & administration*
  • Social Perception*
  • United States
  • Workforce
  • Wounds and Injuries