Physical therapy education in the United States Army has a long and proud tradition of excellence beginning as physiotherapy Reconstruction Aides during World War I. Their 120 day training was completed in civilian education institutions. In 1922, the Army began a formalized course of instruction at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The program was accredited in 1928 and graduates worked as civilians in military hospitals. Beginning in 1942, graduates were commissioned as officers.
During World War II, increased demand resulted in programs being offered at four different locations with a new class starting every quarter. After the war, training was suspended but those therapists on active duty became part of the newly established Women’s Army Specialist Corps, which became the Army Medical Specialist Corps in 1955. Resumed in 1948, students were commissioned as second lieutenants, and the program was moved to its current location at Fort Sam Houston in San AntonioTX.
In 1971, the program partnered with Baylor University to offer a Master’s of Physical Therapy degree. Prior to the early 1970s, physical therapists worked in a prescriptive environment. However, after the Vietnam War, due to a physician shortage, Army Physical Therapists took on the role of “physician extender” or direct access and were credentialed to evaluate and treat patients with neuro-musculoskeletal conditions without physician referral. Army physical therapists have been functioning in a direct access setting since that time. The curriculum has evolved to support that important role and also emphasizes research and evidence based practice.