Published on March 22, 2021

Are Athletic Trainers Essential?

basketball player

March is recognized by the National Athletic Trainers Association as National Athletic Training Month, and this year’s theme is “Essential to Health Care.” After giving this some thought, here’s why I think the answer is absolutely YES. Athletic Trainers (ATs) are essential to health care based on their education requirements, scope of practice and increasingly diverse practice settings.

ATs are required to have a four-year degree from a Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education-accredited program and pass a rigorous three-part national certification exam to obtain an athletic training license. As of 2020, ATs must obtain a master’s degree from a CAATE-accredited program as well as pass the certification exam. Additionally, every two years, ATs are required to complete 50 hours of continuing education units to maintain their certification.

In college, we study human anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, psychology, nutrition, recognition and treatment of injuries, rehabilitation of injuries, use of therapeutic modalities, exercise science and emergency situations. Our clinical training provides hands-on experience while working under the direct supervision of experienced ATs and physicians.

Since 2008, I have worked with student-athletes at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton. My responsibilities go far beyond just attending practices and games and may vary day to day. I work closely with coaches and administrators in developing and implementing strength and conditioning programs and emergency action plans; coordinating pre-participation physicals; and educating athletes and coaches through lectures and in-services. I spend much of my time preparing athletes for practices and games by helping them warm-up, taping various body parts to aid in injury prevention, and muscle stretching. When injuries occur, I provide initial first aid and then coordinate with parents, coaches and physicians if further care is necessary. I also assist injured athletes with rehabilitation of athletic injuries.

ATs are also trained to recognize and treat life-threatening emergencies such as brain and spinal cord injuries, cardiac emergencies and heat illness issues. I feel like coaches appreciate having an AT there because it relieves them of the responsibility of making a decision regarding an injured athlete’s ability to play—something they are not trained to do. Parents should also have some peace of mind knowing that a qualified medical professional is there to make those decisions.

The sports setting is where people traditionally associate ATs. But increasingly ATs are working in more diverse settings such as large industries, the armed services, on movie sets, in physician offices and other nontraditional settings. You don’t have to be considered an athlete to be physically active. A muscle strain is a muscle strain whether it occurs in a professional athlete or a worker in an industrial plant. Much of the skillset ATs have learned can carry over from the athletic fields to industry floors. ATs that work in these settings deal with musculoskeletal injuries and help prevent, diagnose and treat injuries.

Athletic trainers manage routine sports injuries and are trained to recognize and treat life-threatening emergencies.