Issue: July 2009
July 01, 2009
2 min read

Athletic trainers can move from the playing field into the office as physician extenders

Researchers saw an 18% average increase in productivity when physicians used athletic trainers.

Issue: July 2009
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More orthopedists are looking to employ athletic trainers as physician extenders to increase practice efficiency, revenue and productivity, while ensuring patient education and satisfaction.

“To some orthopedists, it is new and different,” John W. Xerogeanes, MD, chief of the Emory Sports Medicine Center, told Orthopedics Today. “It can be a big improvement compared to what we have in terms of quality of care, and you can also significantly save on the financial side.”

Multiple tasks

Athletic trainers working as physician extenders can take patients’ histories, perform data entry and the initial evaluation, initiate in-office rehabilitation exercises and, with additional certification, administer injections and assist in the operating room. Since athletic trainers are licensed in 44 states, they can also provide the benefit of third-party billing.

“Because athletic trainers have eduction in general medical knowledge, as well as musculoskeletal expertise, they can help in a broad way with what the physicians may need in their clinics,” National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) President, Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, said.

Athletic trainers have replaced physician and medical assistants at the Emory Sports Medicine Center. The center has a 1-year program that allows athletic trainers with a master’s degree to assist in the operating room.

“There is no benefit to our practice in having a physician assistant rather than an athletic trainer,” Xerogeanes said. “In fact, they are better trained to do what we need them to do.”

He also noted that the starting salary for an athletic trainer is $45,000 to $50,000 compared to $65,000 to $70,000 for a physician assistant.

A series of studies conducted by Xerogeanes and colleagues have also shown an 18% average increase in productivity when physicians used certified athletic trainers instead of medical assistants, no significant difference in the collection rates between physician assistants and certified athletic trainers, and no significant difference in patients’ perceptions of athletic trainers and orthopedic residents when blinded to the attendee’s profession.

“It is the best of both worlds,” Xerogeanes said. “They are billing and paying for their own salary, it helps us be more efficient, patients like them, and there are a large number of them willing to work for us in a place where it is hard to get good help.”


Using athletic trainers as physician extenders is a growing trend, Albohm said. Physicians looking to hire athletic trainers in this role should ensure that candidates are state licensed and board certified. Fellowship training is also a plus, she said.

Four to five athletic trainers complete the program at Emory each year, Xerogeanes said.

“They are looking for jobs and want the opportunity to use their full spectrum of abilities, which is being in the operating room and being in the clinic, not just rooming patients,” he said.

For more information:
  • Marjorie J. Albohm, MS, ATC, can be reached at NATA, 2952 Stemmons Freeway #200, Dallas, TX 75247; 214-637-6282; e-mail:
  • John W. Xerogeanes, MD, can be reached at Emory Sports Medicine Center, 2165 N. Decatur Road, Decatur, GA 30033; 404-778-7202; e-mail: