“So you train people at the gym, right?”; “So you’re basically like a coach?” or “Are you a Phys Ed teacher?”
As a Certified Athletic Trainer (AT), these are some of the questions I get asked about my profession on a regular basis, and my typical off-the-cuff answer is
“You know the one in the khakis who runs out to the field when someone goes down? That’s me!”
No doubt, there is a certain glamour and adrenaline rush that comes along with the sprint out to the field to care for a fallen athlete, or when we proudly watch from the sidelines as one of our athletes makes a triumphant return after his/her hard work at rehab. While the average sports fan often sees Athletic Trainers tending to the injuries of their favorite Pro athletes, many don’t realize the depth of involvement that ATs have outside the professional sports arena.
Athletic Trainers, whether they work with a Pro Team or with middle school and high school aged athletes, are often faced with emergency situations in which their training and education are relied upon. This happens more often than most people realize, and the AT may be responsible for, quite literally, saving athletes’ lives. Athletic Trainers are among the most experienced healthcare professionals when it comes to handling emergent situations that may occur during sports. They have been at the forefront of concussion research, promoting and implementing safety guidelines, as well as having made widespread contributions to the field of Acute and Emergency Care, putting in place protocols that not only lower the risk of orthopedic injuries like ankle sprains and ACL tears, but also of life-threatening conditions such as Exertional Sickling Crises, Heat Stroke, Second Impact Syndrome, and Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Not all medical issues that Athletic Trainers deal with are emergencies. Well-versed in chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, substance abuse, and disordered eating, Athletic Trainers are often the first to pick up on physical or emotional cues that may indicate a need for treatment, or change in treatment. The relationships that Athletic Trainers develop with their athletes, coaches, doctors, parents, and school administrators allow for timely and appropriate referrals, and a team approach to caring for the athlete that is unparalleled.
Of course, the majority of injuries that Athletic Trainers deal with are sports-related orthopedic injuries. Athletic Trainers are highly skilled in the assessment of acute and chronic musculoskeletal injuries and have a wide network of experts to whom they can refer their athletes — from Physical Therapists to Orthopedic Surgeons. The relationship between these Allied Health Professionals is crucial, and ensures that young athletes are given the same expedited appointments and attentive, individualized treatment plans as the Pros. The combination of early recognition of and appropriate, timely care for these injuries can often be the difference between a short stint of rehabilitation and a season-ending injury. Just as important are the injury prevention protocols that ATs work on with coaches to ensure that our Student-Athletes are in prime physical condition to safely perform at their best throughout the season.
So how does one prepare to handle all of these situations and more? First, aspiring Athletic Trainers must earn a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree from a Board Accredited academic program. While completing a challenging course load, Athletic Training students also complete clinical rotations in various sports and orthopedic settings where they gain valuable real-life experience. They must then pass a national board exam and apply for state licensure. Many ATs then go on to earn their Master’s Degree and/or additional certifications.
All of this work is done to prepare for the fact that no matter the situation, amidst the chaos of a close game or an intense practice, the job of an Athletic Trainer is to place the welfare of the Student-Athlete above all else. In fact, if you were to ask an Athletic Trainer why they chose this profession, many would tell you it began with a story of when they themselves were injured, and the care they received was the beginning of a career they truly love. As one of those ATs, and in celebration of National Athletic Training Month, I would like to recognize my peers, my mentors, and my Student-Athletes — all of whom keep my love for our profession alive!
Editor’s note: March is National Athletic Training Month, and this blog is written in celebration of it.