Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals who specialize in the prevention, evaluation, rehabilitation and management of injuries that result from physical activity, especially those involving the musculoskeletal system. Their patients and clients include everyone from professional athletes to industrial workers. Athletic trainers work under the direction of a licensed physician and in cooperation with other trainers or healthcare providers. Often, athletic trainers will be one of the first healthcare providers on the scene when injuries occur. They must be able to recognize, evaluate and assess injuries, and provide immediate care when needed.
Athletic trainers try to prevent injuries by educating athletes and other clients on how to reduce their risk for injuries. They advise athletes on the proper use of equipment, exercises to improve balance and strength, and home exercises and therapy programs; they also help apply protective or injury-preventive devices such as tape, bandages, and braces.
Athletic trainers are not the same as personal trainers or fitness trainers, who are not healthcare workers, but rather train people to become physically fit.
- Colleges, universities, and high schools
- Sports medicine programs, through hospitals, clinics or physician offices
- Fitness and recreational sports centers
- Professional sports teams
The work environment will depend on the individual employer and the particular work setting. Work might be indoors most of the time; it could be outdoors most of the time. Work schedules will also vary depending on the work setting. Athletic Trainer, Jason Ensrud, says that athletic trainers cover every practice, every game. “It’s not a 9 to 5, 40-hour week. There’s some late nights, some weekends…some 80-hour weeks…some 20-hour weeks, but it all kind of averages out.” Athletic trainers in nonsports settings will generally have an established work schedule. Those working in sports settings will typically have longer, more variable work schedules.
Employment of athletic trainers is expected to increase 37 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations, because of their role in preventing injuries and reducing healthcare costs. Ensrud says that athletic trainers are a physician extender, and consult with the physician to determine which injuries need X-rays, MRIs or further evaluation. The athletic trainer also can implement rehabilitation plans, post-injury and post-surgically, which is both a cost-saver and a time-saver for athletes. Job growth is expected to be concentrated in the healthcare industry, with fitness and recreation sports centers also providing new jobs. Prospects for jobs should be good in high schools; competition is expected for positions with college and professional sports teams.
- Ability to learn the complex science, math, methods and techniques of athletic training
- Good social and communication skills
- Good space and form perception, manual dexterity, and general coordination
- Ability to relate to a variety of people and to motivate and influence others
- Ability to make judgments based on data, observation and experience
- Emotional maturity and patience
- Ability to manage difficult situations and the stress associated with them
A bachelor’s degree from a school with an accredited athletic training curriculum is required to become an athletic trainer. Course work will include formal instruction in areas such as injury and illness prevention, human anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, types of treatments and therapies, and nutrition. Classroom learning is supplemented by clinical experience. More than 70% of certified athletic trainers also hold a master’s degree or higher.
Dana Bates, Program Director of a college Athletic Trainer program says students do a lot of hands-on work. “The athletic training students are in the athletic training room, practicing their skills on athletes; on the sideline – being able to run out onto the field when an injury does occur; and working with that athlete in the 6-months post-rehab, getting them back out on the court, back out onto the field.” Bates says the undergraduate athletic training curriculum is also excellent preparation for post-professional careers in chiropractic, physician assistant, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing.
Most states require athletic trainers to be licensed. To be licensed to practice in Nebraska, individuals must graduate from an accredited education program. They must also pass the comprehensive examination administered by the Board of Certification of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Once certified, athletic trainers must meet on-going continuing education requirements.
Programs in Nebraska
Related / Links
Other careers that involve the prevention, evaluation, rehabilitation and management of injuries:
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapist
- Physician assistant
- Recreational therapist
- Registered nurse
- Respiratory therapist
- National Athletic Trainers’ Association
- Board of Certification for Athletic Trainers
- Mid-America Athletic Trainers’ Association
Career information adapted in part from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handook, 2010-2011 Edition, Athletic Trainers, on the Internet at www.bls.gov