It’s best to start with what an Athletic Trainer is not. Athletic Trainers (AT) are not physicians, personal trainers nor are they physical therapists. They’re not limited to employment with sports teams and they, despite their title, do not focus solely on athletes. Athletic Trainers are certified health care professionals working under the direction of physicians. Their overarching mission is to use various medical techniques to increase activity amongst their patients. And those choosing this occupation can work with a myriad of people focusing on their physical limitations and disabilities. Professional and amateur athletes, military personnel, disabled or injured civilians, first responders and others require assistance to recover from injuries or overcome disabilities.
A medical jack-of-all-trades best describes the diversity of those in this profession. They must heal anything from major head and neck trauma to minor acute injuries while promoting long term nutrition and wellness. If it can aid in the healing of physical issues, an Athletic Trainer is responsible to know about it. Among other focal points, their concentration is on rehabilitation exercises, disabilities and medical conditions, nutrition and pathology, the diagnosis of diseases. When considering this career path, many people picture themselves working in the NFL, Major League Baseball or in professional basketball. If that’s your goal, you may arrive there eventually but it takes hard work and a commitment to learning the craft as you gain the right experiences to progress your career. And, when dealing with patients, the utmost care and bedside manner are necessary due to the great physical and emotional toll often beset upon them. Day-to-day, ATs themselves will feel all areas of the emotional spectrum; the pleasure of watching a rehabbing soldier walk for the first time in months and pain of introducing a child to a wheelchair they’ll use for mobility. People with empathy, the desire to improve the lives of others and an interest in physiology should consider the field of Athletic Training.
To become an Athletic Trainer the minimum education required is a baccalaureate degree. As you begin researching programs, reference the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), the organization responsible for accrediting programs in the field. ATs impact all areas of the medical field so well-run educational programs are designed to do the same. These accredited programs will focus on several core competencies:
- Risk Management and Injury Prevention
- Pathology of Injuries and Illnesses
- Orthopedic Clinical Examination and Assessment
- Medical Conditions and Disabilities
- Acute Care of Injuries and Illnesses
- Therapeutic Modalities and Conditioning and Rehabilitative Exercises
- Psychosocial Intervention and Referral
- Nutritional Aspects of Injuries and Illnesses
- Healthcare Administration Best Practices
Once you’ve completed your educational course work, the next step is becoming a nationally certified Athletic Trainer. Do so by successfully passing the NATA Board of Certification (BOC) exam, validating your knowledge of Athletic Training standards and practices. As with most medical professions, clinical experience is a must before independently entering the work force. BOC-certified students are required to participate in at least two years of academic clinical education, gaining experience with people of various ages and performing several types of activities. This clinical work will provide students valuable hands-on practice, real world knowledge and insight into what most piques their interests. Upon completion of your clinical internship, you’ll have all the tools necessary to enter the field. Formal education doesn’t stop there. The BOC requires continuing education credits to stay certified and, according to the National Athletic Trainer Association, roughly 70 percent of athletic trainers will eventually receive a master’s degree, enhancing their compensation and upward mobility in the industry.
The Money …
As with most careers, your level of education, the geographic location of the job and type of employer impacts your salary. The current average salary for Athletic Trainers is $37,000 with entry-level compensation starting around $20,000. There is no salary ceiling preventing successful Athletic Trainers with master’s degrees from earning $100,000+ but ATs with a basic education max out around $60,000 per year.
While salaries for Athletic Trainers aren’t on the level of doctors or nurses, the educational costs are significantly lower and the work/life balance is generally more appealing. Athletic Training is a growing profession and among the most emotionally rewarding careers available, decreasing the burn out factor and increasing the positive experience you’ll have each day. The money will come if you’re passionate about the work and the people you’re helping.