Athletic Trainers - What They Do

Athletic trainers help prevent and treat injuries for people of all ages. Their patients and clients include everyone from professional athletes to industrial workers. Recognized by the American Medical Association as allied health professionals, athletic trainers specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of muscle and bone injuries and illnesses. Athletic trainers, as one of the first healthcare providers on the scene when injuries occur, must be able to recognize, evaluate, and assess injuries and provide immediate care when needed. Athletic trainers should not be confused with fitness trainers or personal trainers, who are not healthcare workers, but rather train people to become physically fit.

Athletic trainers try to prevent injuries by educating people on how to reduce their risk for injuries and by advising them 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 may work under the direction of a licensed physician, and in cooperation with other healthcare providers. The extent of the direction ranges from discussing specific injuries and treatment options with a physician to performing evaluations and treatments as directed by a physician. Some athletic trainers meet with the team physician or consulting physician once or twice a week; others interact with a physician every day. Athletic trainers often have administrative responsibilities. These may include regular meetings with an athletic director, physician practice manager, or other administrative officer to deal with budgets, purchasing, policy implementation, and other business-related issues.

Work Environment

Athletic trainers held about 30,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of athletic trainers were as follows:

  • Educational services; state, local, and private - 38%
  • Hospitals; state, local, and private - 20%
  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists - 14%
  • Fitness and recreational sports centers - 5%
  • Self-employed workers - 3%

Athletic trainers also may work with military, with law enforcement, with professional sports teams, or with performing artists.

Athletic trainers may spend their time working outdoors on sports fields in all types of weather.

Work Schedules

Most athletic trainers work full time. Athletic trainers who work with teams during sporting events may work evenings or weekends and travel often.

Education & Training Required

A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university is required for almost all jobs as an athletic trainer. In 2009, there were about 350 accredited undergraduate programs nationwide. Students in these programs are educated both in the classroom and in clinical settings. Formal education includes many science and health-related courses, such as human anatomy, physiology, nutrition, and biomechanics.

According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, almost 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master's degree or higher. Athletic trainers may need a master's or higher degree to be eligible for some positions, especially those in colleges and universities, and to increase their advancement opportunities. Because some positions in high schools involve teaching along with athletic trainer responsibilities, a teaching certificate or license could be required.

Certifications Needed (Licensure)

In 2009, 47 States required athletic trainers to be licensed or registered; this requires certification from the Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC). For BOC certification, athletic trainers need a bachelor's or master’s degree from an accredited athletic training program and must pass a rigorous examination. To retain certification, credential holders must continue taking medical-related courses and adhere to the BOC standards of practice. In Alaska, California, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia where licensure is not required, certification is voluntary but may be helpful for those seeking jobs and advancement.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)

Because all athletic trainers deal directly with a variety of people, they need good social and communication skills. They should be able to manage difficult situations and the stress associated with them, such as when disagreements arise with coaches, patients, clients, or parents regarding suggested treatment. Athletic trainers also should be organized, be able to manage time wisely, be inquisitive, and have a strong desire to help people.

Athletic Trainers - What They Do - Page 2

Academic Programs of Interest

Physical Education
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Physical Therapy
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Public Health
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