Camp Arifjan, Kuwait –
Camp Arifjan, Kuwait – Medical officials launched an innovative program in Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve that will enable Coalition forces operating across the theater expanded access to basic physical therapy care.
Known as the physical therapy extender program, the course provides training in physical therapy and injury rehabilitation techniques to trained military medics, expanding the availability of care within the theater exponentially.
Prior to the course, the average wait time for care for a service member with a musculoskeletal injury was 45-60 days. This wait time meant service members deployed in support of CJTF-OIR were on limited duty conditions, known as “profiles,” longer and had to wait for access to initial treatment and rehabilitation programs, according to Col. Pamela DiPatrizio, the chief of clinical operations for the Combined Joint operations area, or CJOA. Not addressing musculoskeletal injuries early increases the chance of prolonged injury, making the injury worse, DiPatrizio noted.
“Having medical extenders rotate throughout the CJOA will hopefully reduce the wait times for care,” she said. “This program allows us to address injuries early on.” With the extender program, DiPatrizio hopes to reduce service member time on profile to 30 days or fewer.
“As the clinical operations chief, I assess the entire theater for all of Operation Inherent Resolve,” DiPatrizio explained. “Currently, we have only one physical therapist positioned at a Role III medical facility [at the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center] in Baghdad, Iraq, however, the need for care is all throughout the CJOA.”
DiPatrizio implemented the physical therapy training program based on a program that was being tested at her home station clinic, Robinson Health Clinic, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. According to DiPatrizio, data revealed that musculoskeletal injuries were the most frequent type of injury occurring for patients there. At Fort Bragg, the clinic hired civilian nurses to help expand rehabilitation programs for injured Soldiers. In the CJOA however, DiPatrizio determined that military medics would be ideal candidates for this sort of training.
She developed a 40-hour medical education program for 10-12 trainees that began April 11, 2022. The students learned basic physical therapy maneuvers and communication skills. While the program was targeted toward combat medics, the program was open to any interested service members with the appropriate level of basic medical knowledge, DiPatrizio noted. The training consists of a 40-credit-hour classroom training followed by three weeks of hands-on training under the supervision of the CJTF-OIR physical therapist. Once students have completed the training they are considered “medical extenders” who serve as an additional asset for physical therapy care throughout the theater. These medical extenders will facilitate continued care based upon the physical therapist’s initial evaluation after the physical therapist leaves their location.
DiPatrizio noted how well the combat medics have taken to the training.
“My first class went well, and the medics worked extremely hard every day,” she said. “The physical therapist and I were so impressed with their performance…We are confident in their skill set.” She further noted that by the third week of hands-on-training many of the course participants no longer needed any assistance from the physical therapist or course instructor. As a result of the success of the initial course, DiPatrizio and her team expanded the program CJOA-wide.
Maj. Troy Reid, the physical therapist for Task Force Grizzly, a subordinate task force of CJTF-OIR’s Task Force Med, echoed DiPatrizio’s praise for the performance of the course participants.
“I absolutely loved working with the medics,” Reid said. “They were enthusiastic and eager to learn the entire time.”
In addition to the positive training results, DiPatrizio explained how the extender program is contributing to greater mission readiness.
“The physical therapy extender program has empowered medics to learn a new skill and given service-members the care they need to recover,” DiPatrizio said.
DiPatrizio has served in the United States Army for 35 years. She started her career as a combat medic, then became a practical nurse specialist, and eventually became a registered trauma nurse. She is assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. This is her fifth deployment.