Should I Stay or Should I Go? Identifying Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors in the Decision to Return to Duty following Lower Extremity Injury

Jonathan B. Wilson, Christopher A. Rábago, Carrie W. Hoppes, Phaidra L. Harper, Jin Gao, Elizabeth Russell Esposito

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Rehabilitation research of wounded service members (SMs) commonly focuses on physical ability to return to duty (RTD) as a measure of successful recovery. However, numerous factors or barriers may influence a SM's ability and/or desire to RTD after lower extremity musculoskeletal trauma. SMs themselves as well as the clinical care team that works with them daily, often for years at a time, both offer unique perspectives on the influential factors that weigh into decisions to RTD. The purpose of this study was to identify the intrinsic and extrinsic factors patients and clinicians recognized as influencing the decision to RTD after severe lower extremity trauma. Materials and Methods: Thirty-two SMs with severe lower extremity trauma (amputation and lower limb salvage) and 30 providers with at least 2 years' experience caring for SMs with similar injuries participated separately in either a SM or provider/clinician focus group. Open-ended questions on factors influencing RTD and other rehabilitation success were discussed. Data analysis consisted of qualitative transcription and participatory active sorting, followed by thematic coding and grouping of qualitative data. Results: Individual (health condition, personal traits, and career consideration), interpersonal (clinician's impact, family influence, and peer influence), health care system (systems of care, transdisciplinary rehabilitation, and innovation availability), and institutional (policy, benefits, and unit/commander) themes emerged amongst SM patients and clinicians. Expected frequently occurring themes common to both groups were the influence of the team and family unit, as well as career trajectory options after a severe injury. An unexpected theme was acknowledgment of and dissatisfaction with the recent dismantling of institutional systems that support wounded SMs. Patients placed less emphasis on severity of injury and greater emphasis on system and policy barriers than did clinicians. Conclusions: Characterization and classification of these clinician and SM-identified factors that influence the decision to RTD after severe lower extremity trauma is expected to improve the efficacy of future rehabilitation efforts and clinical practice guidelines by providing the clinical team the knowledge necessary to recognize modifiable barriers to patient success. A better understanding of factors influencing RTD decision-making may support policies for mitigating RTD barriers, better monitoring of the changing landscape of RTD after lower extremity trauma, improving systems of health care, and/or reducing turnover and facilitating force readiness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)430-439
Number of pages10
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue numberSupplement_1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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