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AMEDDC&S therapy students using research to improve care

By David DeKunder | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Oct. 6, 2017

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Service members in a graduate program at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston are using research to help improve therapy care for their patients who have musculoskeletal problems.

Students in the Army-Baylor University Doctoral Fellowship in Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy, offered through AMEDDC&S Graduate School, use the knowledge they are learning in the classroom and through research to treat patients at the Capt. Jennifer M. Moreno Primary Care Clinic at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

Each year, six service members from all branches of the military participate in the 18-month program, where they earn their doctoral degree while doing their fellowship in orthopaedic manual physical therapy at the Moreno clinic.

Retired Army Col. (Dr.) Gail Deyle, Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy program founder and instructor, said students in the program care for patients who have disorders or injuries in the neuro musculoskeletal system, which accounts for a large percentage of patient care within the military health system.

The neuro musculoskeletal system includes the bones, ligaments and joints.

Maj. Chris Allen, Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy program director and associate professor, said the students in the program are experienced clinicians who served for several years in a unit on the front lines or in a military treatment facility and have board certification in orthopaedic physical therapy.

“We produce expert clinicians,” Allen said. “They are able to treat patients all across the spectrum, from young active-duty all the way to retirees with complex medical histories. We take someone who is experienced based and we build upon that.”

Also, the student clinicians mentor and teach other clinicians at the Moreno clinic, Allen said.

Each week, students split their time between the classroom and seeing patients; 20 hours in class, 20 hours treating patients.

The current students in the program include Majs. Andy Fortenberry, Justin Zimmerman and Jon Umlauf and Capt. Nate Parsons, from the Army; Navy Lt. Cmdr. Josh Halfpap; and Air Force Maj. Danielle Anderson.

Parsons said the care the student clinicians provide for their patients is based on an individualized approach.

“We are using our hands to deepen our understanding of the patients,” he said. “We are trying to tailor our plan to the patient’s needs instead of using a standardized approach.”

The clinicians are learning about how they can utilize technology in treating and caring for patients through a research project being conducted by Anderson.

Anderson said the research project involves the use of real-time instrumented feedback for manual skill training, which includes placing a sensor on the knee of a student clinician. The project utilizes the feedback for the development of motor skills by physical therapists learning to treat patients with knee osteoarthritis at the Moreno.

“It gives us feedback on the skills we are practicing,” Anderson said. “Research is central in how we best learn these techniques, whether it’s feedback from faculty (instructors) or a device. It improves our consistency and accuracy on how we apply our techniques to our patients in caring for and treating them.”

Parsons said being a student in the Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy program is allowing him to further his skills as a clinician and therapist.

“I want to get to the next level of education so I can be a better clinician,” he said.

After completing the program, the student clinicians will serve in a variety of research, teaching and clinical positions at military facilities.

“We are producing research experts in teaching and clinical care,” Allen said. “They are going to be leaders in those fields.”

“The program’s graduates are fulfilling my vision by being leaders going into advanced clinical mentoring, teaching and research,” Deyle said.