‘Physician Extender’ Will No Longer be Used to Identify ATs

March 24, 2016 by Beth Sitzler

The NATA Board of Directors in January unanimously approved the request of the NATA Committee on Practice Advancement and the NATA Terminology Workgroup to gradually eliminate the term “physician extender” to describe athletic trainers working in the physician practice setting.

The term “physician extender” became popularized in the 1980s; however, athletic trainers have worked alongside physicians in the clinical setting since the 1970s.

“When the term ‘physician extender’ was introduced and embraced by athletic trainers, it was used to describe any non-physician provider who worked under the supervision of a physician to ‘extend the services’ of that physician” said District Six Director Kathy Dieringer, EdD, ATC, LAT, in the article “Athletic Training Moves Away from Term ‘Physician Extender.’” “Hospital and practice administrators, physicians and major medical societies recognized and frequently used this terminology, and NATA saw this as an opportunity to market the value an athletic trainer brought to this practice setting and patient population.”

While the term made it easier for physicians and other health care professionals to understand what athletic trainers did in the setting, many felt it didn’t adequately describe the credentials held by the health care providers in this position.

COPA held a meeting with subject matter experts in the physician practice setting in December 2014, during which the group came to a consensus that “physician extender” should no longer be used to describe athletic trainers working in the physician practice setting.

“While it served a useful purpose at one time, continuing to use ‘physician extender’ within the NATA and its membership will damage our ability to secure our place within health care as it continues to evolve,” COPA stated in its request to the board to eliminate the term.

The NATA Board of Directors in June 2015 approved the formation of the NATA Terminology Workgroup – consisting of representatives from NATA, Board of Certifications, Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, NATA Research & Education Foundation and other NATA committees – to identify, review and standardize key or important terminology within the athletic training profession. “Physician extender” was the first term the group researched and made a recommendation on.

By identifying as a “physician extender” rather than an athletic trainer, individuals are diminishing the brand established by the profession. With the health care sector rapidly changing, the athletic training profession must create a well-known brand in order to secure its place as a valuable member of the health care team.

“We challenge every athletic trainer to continue to identify themselves in a way that adds value to the profession, demonstrates our status as a health care provider and enhances our standing in the health care community,” Dieringer said. “For those practicing in physician practices, we encourage you to use the phrase ‘athletic trainer in a physician practice.’ In doing so, we identify that we are athletic trainers first, and we brand the profession we have worked diligently to expand and to grow.”

As NATA rolls out its phased elimination of the term, we will reach out to external entities, including the Strategic Alliance, to request the proper use of “athletic trainers in a” practice or setting that best applies to them. NATA members who previously self-identified as “physician extenders” will need to login to our website to update their member profile and choose a setting that best fits their position. 

To learn more about the history of the term “physician extender” in athletic training and health care as well as why it should no longer be used, read “Athletic Training and the Elimination of the Physician Extender Classification” by COPA.

If you have questions about the term elimination, contact Britni Adams at britnia@nata.org.