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Athletic Trainers Fill Niche as Physician Extenders

Marjorie J. Albohm, for HealthLeaders Media, March 12, 2009

When the topic is the ongoing shortages of necessary personnel at hospitals, clinics, and physicians offices, the professionals that come immediately to mind are physicians and nurses. However, athletic trainers and other healthcare professionals are qualified to fill the role of physician extender.

Many clinics are now hiring physician extenders in their practices in order to save time and improve patient satisfaction, increase revenue, enhance physician productivity and efficiency, and educate patients about treatment plans.

Far from the athletic fields, athletic trainers and other physician extenders help improve productivity, patient outcomes, and satisfaction at clinics and hospitals nationwide. That's why they are so often employed in physician offices and specialty practices, including by specialists in orthopedics, osteopathy, family practice, pediatrics, and sports medicine.

In 2006, nearly 34% of athletic trainers worked in hospitals, clinics, and physician offices, according to National Athletic Trainers' Association. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects athletic trainers' employment to grow 24% between 2006 and 2016—much faster than the average for other occupations.

Because athletic trainers tend to be less rushed than surgeons and other physicians, they have more time to spend with patients, providing them with post-injury or post-surgical rehab programs.

Athletic trainers' vital role in hospitals, clinics, and physician offices
In their growing role as physician extenders athletic trainers help physicians increase their productivity and efficiency. "Athletic trainers are a committed, essential component to physicians delivering the highest standard of team medical care to the patients of the Andrews Institute," says James Andrews, MD. "They know how to relate to the patient so his or her recovery is as quick as safely allowable, whether that person is a professional or youth athlete or just an average mom or dad."

According to NATA, a 1998 time-to-task study showed that athletic trainers working as physician extenders increased clinic production by 12 patients per day. The athletic trainer serves a vital role in the clinical setting by reducing re-injury rates through patient instruction, reducing recovery time from non-surgical injuries, and rehabilitating musculoskeletal injures.

"My patients experience excellent outcomes as a result of therapy provided by athletic trainers," said Thomas D. Kohl, MD, director of sports medicine at the Comprehensive Athletic Treatment Center in Pennsylvania. "My patients love working with them. Athletic trainers are a value-added service to my practice. I could not do without them."

Professional training leads to better healthcare coordination
Athletic trainers earn a bachelor's education and national certification that enables them to work closely with physicians and other medical professionals to develop better-coordinated, efficient, and responsive healthcare in a team environment. And their training equips them with the expertise needed to perform immediate and emergency injury management, injury assessment, and rehabilitation.

"I believe that athletic trainers provide a critical service as physician extenders in the doctor's office, and I work with them daily in that role," said John Xerogeanes, MD, at Emory Sports Medicine Center in Atlanta.

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