BACKGROUND Within a military framework, the trauma course student, a young medical officer, is trained to become a trauma team leader and the first provider of medical aid. By adding battlefield medicine-related subjects to the basic Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course, as well as exercises tailored to the distinctive demands of military medicine, we could develop a special teaching unit: Combat Trauma Life Support (CTLS). The curriculum is basically the complete unchanged ATLS course of the American College of Surgeons enriched with lectures and practicums to fill the gap between the essentially civilian emergency department character of the ATLS course and the military tasks of the medical officer. PURPOSE OF STUDY To compare the cognitive knowledge achievements of trauma course participants in the Israel Defence Force Medical Corps and to delineate the impact of the course type on students' written test results. DESIGN A retrospective comparison analysis of pre- and post-course written test scores of 2,614 physicians who had participated in the ATLS and CTLS courses in the Israel Defence Force School of Military Medicine between 1990 and 1993. RESULTS The analysis indicated that students who undertook the CTLS course achieved statistically better results in written tests (87.9 +/- 8.7 vs. 79.6 +/- 11.4, R2 = 0.33). CONCLUSIONS We conclude that the CTLS comprehensive curriculum provides an improved training basis for the complex task of army battlefield trauma care support.