An athletic trainer plays an important role in the diagnosis, assessment, management, treatment and rehabilitation of injured athletes and non-athletes. Not to be confused with fitness trainers or personal trainers, athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association as allied health care workers.
Under the supervision of a doctor, an athletic trainer provides emergency and follow-up care to athletes and other clients. They are the liaison between an injured athlete, the doctor and the coach to determine when the athlete is ready to resume athletic practice and competitions. They also create athletic injury prevention and treatment programs.
Day in the Life of an Athletic Trainer
On a typical day, an athletic trainer might:
- Treat and prevent injuries
- Help to rehabilitate muscle and bone
- Assess an athlete's illness, disorder or injury to determine whether a doctor might be needed for a formal diagnosis or treatment plan
- Create training programs and routines that improve athletic performance
- Advise people regarding the proper use of equipment to reduce the risk of injury
- Evaluate an athlete's readiness for practice and competition
- Provide therapy programs
- Order equipment and supplies
- Keep records on their clients
- Report the progress of a recovering athlete to doctors and coaches
Valued for their approach toward athletes of all ages, athletic trainers can work in a range of environments. An increasing awareness of preventive medicine has popularized the job in doctor's offices and other health care facilities. Some school districts now place more athletic trainers in high schools to work with student-athletes. Many athletic trainers work for college and professional sports teams as well.
Athletic trainers who work in non-sports environments usually have an established work schedule, typically 40 to 50 hours of work per week. Those working in hospitals and clinics sometimes work at other locations while performing outreach services.
Athletic trainers who work in sports environments have variable schedules. They need to be with the team at practices and competitions, which may occur in the evening or on weekends and may even require travel. Athletic trainers connected with professional sports teams usually work the most hours per week.
Important Characteristics for an Athletic Trainer
Some of the greatest athletic trainers fit a general profile. These trainers have:
- Good social and communication skills
- The ability to manage difficult situations and related stress
- A desire to help others
- An inquisitive nature
- Good decision-making skills
They are also flexible, dependable and well-organized. A successful athletic trainer is a good team player, as the job requires coordination with the patient/athlete, doctors, coaches, and other health care providers.
A bachelor's degree is the basic education requirement for becoming an athletic trainer. Four-year athletic training programs can help students acquire the fundamental skills they need to enter the workforce with confidence. The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accredits these athletic training programs.
The focus of athletic trainer education is on assessment and clinical evaluation, immediate care, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and reconditioning, professional development, ethics and business skills. Athletic training programs also prepare students to take the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC) exam, the standard certification exam that most states use for licensing athletic trainers.
Most states require athletic trainers to be licensed or certified. Requirements vary by state; for details, contact the licensing or credentialing board — or athletic trainer association — of the state where you plan to work. Certification requires first graduating from a CAATE-accredited program and completing the BOC exam. To maintain certification, athletic trainers must adhere to the BOC Standards of Practice and Disciplinary Process and take continuing education courses.
Once you have earned your degree and are licensed or certified as an athletic trainer, you can start your career in an entry-level job. As you build experience and a good reputation, you'll become eligible to move up the career ladder in the setting of your choice. Assistant athletic trainers may go on to hold management positions such as head athletic trainer, athletic director, or administrator for physicians, hospitals or clinic practices. Athletic trainers working in colleges and universities may pursue an advanced degree (such as a master's degree) to increase their advancement opportunities.
- Summary Report for Athletic Trainers, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-9091.00
- Athletic Trainers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/athletic-trainers.htm