Athletic trainers are a specific subset of health professionals that cater to athletes at every level from recreational sports up to professional leagues. They offer their patients point-of-care in a range of situations from on-field emergencies to ongoing rehabilitation and treatment plans.
The prevention, diagnosis, & treatment of injuries and diseases associated with physical exercise will be the main theme throughout any Master’s program in athletic training. To provide patient-centered treatment that encourages athletes to participate safely in their sport of choice, return to their place of employment, and carry out all the activities they enjoy throughout daily life, athletic trainers collaborate with a range of healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses.
Typically small student-to-faculty ratios allow athletic training departments to offer specialized instruction in both classroom & clinical settings. Usually completed during the last year of program study, students participate in at least one immersive clinical experience program that mirrors the experience they will face in a true athlete-facing environment.
Keep reading to learn more about what an athletic trainer does, what it takes to become one, and the various credentials and career paths that exist within the field.
What is A Licensed Athletic Trainer?
For starters, personal trainers and athletic trainers are often confused. However, the schooling, skill set, professional responsibilities, and client profile of each differ significantly. Personal trainers can work with a wide subset of clientele, whereas athletic trainers stick closely to athletes, whether they be high school, college, or professional level.
While there are a variety of certifications for personal training, the large majority (over 70%) of athletic trainers obtain a Master’s Degree. In fact, many also hold Ph.D. degrees after completing doctoral programs, residencies, fellowships, and specialty studies and research.
Additional athletic training educational points of interest:
- In 49 states (and Washington, D.C.) athletic trainers must be licensed and are subject to several regulations. In California, the only stateside exception, initiatives to add licensure are ongoing.
- As a result of health care reform, The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) is actively working to amend outdated state practice laws that don’t reflect present-day training and methodology.
- ATs must possess the Board of Certification accreditation “Athletic Trainer Certified” in order to be legally employed as an ATC.
- As mid-level healthcare providers, athletic trainers are eligible to apply for a National Provider Identifier (NPI). Therefore, athletic trainers are classified under taxonomy code 2255A2300X.
What Do Licensed Athletic Trainers Do?
Depending on the employment setting, Licensed Athletic Trainers often work in tandem with primary care physicians, chiropractors, strength and conditioning coaches, or other health care providers to create injury treatment and rehabilitation plans for injured athletes as well as emergency care if needed and follow-up.
In order to discern an appropriate schedule for return to training and competition, athletic trainers also serve as crucial communication liaisons between the injured athlete and the treating physician, team coaches, or even the athlete’s family. Athletic trainers designated to contact sports will often oversee practices and competitions to be available in the case of injury or emergency. At the middle or high school levels especially, it’s not uncommon for athletic trainers to also instruct classes during the day.
Scope of Training
Athletic trainers are highly qualified health sciences professionals that focus on providing treatment for athletes. In addition to collaborating with doctors, physical therapists, and coaches their job-specific duties in an average week consist of the following:
- Attending and overseeing team practices and competitions
- Helping athletes put on braces, taping injured areas for stability, and administering different modalities such as heat, ice, or electric stimulation
- Assessing wounds and administering first aid assistance
- Creating rehabilitation programs for injured athletes & supervising their application
- Drafting reports and progress charts, among other administrative tasks
The athletic trainer works as a vital part of the healthcare team and can be employed in many facilities such as colleges & universities, K–12 schools, hospitals, fitness facilities, and doctors’ offices, as well as for professional sports teams. Athletic trainers treat patients of a variety of ages and abilities.
Benefits of an Accredited Online Master’s in Athletic Training
Perhaps the biggest benefit of obtaining an athletic training Master’s Degree recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) is that, upon enrolling in the last semester, students are entitled to sit for the BOC exam and consequently apply for BOC certification. The Board of Certification exam is no small feat; it’s an extensive and thorough exam requiring you to recall all of the topics covered throughout the degree program. Once qualified, it’s also necessary to maintain current status in requirements for continuing education to keep your credentials current and up-to-date.
There are several other reasons to go with a highly-reputable program, however:
In accredited programs, students engage in intensive classroom instruction and hands-on clinical education in a range of practice settings including high schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, emergency departments, doctor’s offices, and healthcare clinics.
2. Experiential Learning
An accredited Master’s program in athletic training will offer students individualized, top-notch experiential learning in this rapidly expanding field of healthcare. Students will be exposed to fundamental and advanced clinical reasoning, cutting-edge medical technology, and patient-centered research.
3. Future Career Opportunities
Because of this evidence-based research and access to top-notch preceptors, students in an accredited program will work through a thorough curriculum, leaving their programs with a solid clinical foundation for providing direct patient treatment. If paired with an internship, an accredited Master’s graduate will be primed for employment in a variety of athletic settings right out of the gate.
Examples of Athletic Training-Related Credentials
- Certified Athletic Trainer: The ATC Credential is a designation for athletic trainers provided by the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA). It concentrates on the standards set forth by the Board of Certification (BOC), such as the certification process, the BOC Standards of Advanced Practice, as well as the Disciplinary Procedures and Guidelines. With successful passing of the BOC exam, ATC designation is granted. In order to develop the BOC-approved Athletic Trainer program, the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) works with physicians. The ATC also adheres to standards for continuing education, such as frequent revisions and renewals to their certification.
- ACE Recognition: The Cooper Institute Personal Trainer Certification, or CI-PTr, testing offers an ACE Certification that concentrates on providing specialist skills, teaching proper trainer skills, comprehending exercise routines, developing health programs for clients, and safeguarding the general public from various health issues. Before certifying each member, trainers seeking this certification go through a number of phases, concentrating on muscular and cardiovascular fitness. This extensive course includes a thorough exam that gauges each applicant’s proficiency in real-world situations, such as evaluating athletic injuries as soon as they happen.
- CE Certification: While certifying athletic trainers, the Board of Certifications For Certified Athletic Trainers (BOCATC) collaborated with state regulatory organizations to develop the CE Certification. They adhere to all BOC regulations and can accredit trainers for a variety of contexts. For instance, they can accredit athletic trainers who work for educational institutions, professional and amateur sports teams, hospitals, corporate workplaces, and police or fire departments. These distinct environments are covered in this certification, along with the preparation methods best suited for each.
- ABP Certification: Anyone interested in basic or high school athletic training can take advantage of the specialist sports medicine program offered by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) called the ABP Certification. This degree requires one training year in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. The anatomy of young athletes, how their bodily systems respond to injury, how injury risks can be reduced with precautionary measures, strategies for dealing with athletes’ parents, and an in-depth understanding of the specifics of a variety of sports are all topics covered in this curriculum.
- PA Certification: Physician’s Assistants who want to become athletic trainers can obtain the PA Certification from the National Commission on Certifications of Physical Assistants, or NCCPA. The certification places a lot of emphasis on an athletic trainer’s ability to perform diagnostic procedures, administer emergency care, and apply various forms of physical therapy. For instance, due to the NCCPA’s distinct qualification scope, wounded students may obtain physical treatment from an athletic trainer with that certification. They might also work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, sports teams, and high schools.
- CRC Certification: Over 30,000 counselors in the United States & Canada are members of the independent, not-for-profit Committee on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification(CRCC). They offer physiotherapists the qualifications of Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) and Canadian Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CCRC). By requiring more than two years of schooling before completing the exam, the CRC follows U.S. standards and can help with a transition into a variety of jobs, such as roles in education and professional athletic training after earning this credential.
What You Learn in an Athletic Training Graduate Program
To be an effective athletic trainer, you must have a strong, medically-sound knowledge base of the physics & science of movement, the mechanisms that enable bodies to become stronger, quicker, more flexible, and precise, as well as how injuries occur and what exactly happens during injuries and in the ensuing rehabilitation process.
In order for patients and athletes to see results — whether they want to compete at a high level, maintain an active lifestyle into their 80s, or heal from an accident so they can get back to work — the type, duration, intensity, & frequency of physical therapy, movement exercises, and more intense workouts must be optimized.
Preventing injuries, providing first aid, studying human anatomy and physiology, therapeutic modalities, nutrition, and clinical education are among the topics covered in a Master’s program for future ATs. Candidates also learn strength and conditioning regimens and physical therapy, including exercise science. In addition, athletic trainers are taught how to make accurate and timely decisions, avoid illnesses and injuries, intervene therapeutically, and provide prompt emergency treatment.
- Acute treatment for disease and injury
- Anatomy and exercise science
- Diagnostic testing and clinical evaluation
- Health care management
- Rehabilitation programming
- Promotion of health and prevention
- Charting and progress reporting
- Emergency response and CPR
- Diet and nutrition
- Strength and conditioning fundamentals
- Coping mechanisms and referral
- Therapeutic approaches
Your classroom activities as a candidate for a Master’s Degree will inevitably be combined with supervised practical education in the field. You’ll learn the theory behind performance issues like diet, exercise, and injury assessment before putting it to use in actual situations.
In addition, whether working at a clinic, on an athletic team, or even in a school, anticipate learning how to manage the personnel, resources, and logistics associated with the hands-on work. After you graduate, you’ll be ready to take your certification exam and launch your career as an athletic trainer with a complete license.
What Are The Standard Entrance Requirements to Enroll in a Master’s in Athletic Training?
In most scenarios, a student must submit all, or most, of the following items in order to be considered for admission to a Master’s in athletic training program:
- Bachelor’s Degree: Successful completion of and acquiring of a baccalaureate degree from an approved university in a related field
- Transcript: In addition to completion of an undergraduate degree, Masters’ programs will also want to see a transcript of the courses taken and grades achieved at your prior institution
- Three recommendation letters: Three letters of recommendation, at
least one from a practicing ATC, highlighting the applicant’s capacity for success in the athletic training field and the applicant’s readiness for graduate-level study
- GPA of 3.0: 3.0 cumulative GPA for undergraduate studies
- Volunteer or Shadowing Experience: 50 hours is a typical minimum for hours worked either in a volunteer or observation capacity under the supervision of an ATC during the two years preceding the program application. The official program application must include verified documentation of clinical hours. Be aware that, in most cases, hours worked under a physical therapist’s supervision will NOT count unless he or she is dual-credentialed as an ATC/PT.
- Personal Statement: Letter outlining your motivations for deciding to study for
and enter the field of athletic training. Address your reasons for wanting to go to graduate school, briefly discuss your overall preparation, and explain why you selected to apply to that particular program
In addition to all that paperwork, the basis for entrance into a program often relies upon a student’s quality of interview and compliance with all other admission standards. Hopefully, soon after all benchmarks are achieved, a letter of admittance will be in the mailbox.
If not, students who meet the prerequisites but are not accepted directly into the program will be added to a waiting list, often called “deferment”. Students may also be registered with provisional status if they aren’t automatically admitted but the maximum number of admissions has not yet been reached.
What is the Career Outlook for Athletic Trainers?
One of the health professions with the quickest rate of growth is athletic training. Athletic trainer employment is expected to increase by 23% between 2020 and 2030, which is substantially faster than the average for all professions.
Payscale & Future Prospects
While athletic trainers are typically associated with professional sports, universities, & high schools, as the field of study expands so do the possible employment environments for licensed athletic trainers. Nontraditional environments could include performance arts, the military, or community security (police stations & fire departments).
Due to the variety of levels and unique employment environments that exist in this field, there’s a wide salary band for athletic trainers. Typically, ATCs make between $38,000 and $82,000 a year, with an average salary of $55,036 as of 2014.
To help people interested in the field of athletic training possess the skills to travel down any one of these career paths, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has made the initiative to assemble a range of resources including video interviews, education events, and a dedicated career center to see what employers have current vacancies.
Your employment chances are strong if you study to be an athletic trainer: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2026, this industry will expand by 23%, three times faster than the average for all jobs. In addition, the American Medical Association, the Health Resources & Services Administration, as well as the Department of Health & Human Services all recognize athletic training as a medical specialty which only opens more employment opportunity doors.
Other Types of Sport Programs
Exercise Science or Kinesiology Degrees
Close cousins to athletic training, an undergraduate or Master’s degree from either an exercise science or kinesiology program can lead to several career opportunities, only one of which is athletic training. With a degree in exercise science or kinesiology, the available paths to take are broader and can include personal trainers, dieticians, and even physicians like orthopedic surgeons.
Sport Management or Marketing Degrees
If science isn’t your specialty, and you’d rather be on the business side of sports instead, management or marketing might be the degree path for you. With courses in finance, ethics, promotions, and beyond, you’ll learn how to become a leader in the organization of individual athletes, teams, and leagues.
If you have an interest in a unique side of sports, there are also degrees that hone in on those specialties. There are programs across the country available in areas such as sports analytics, coaching, or performance and sports psychology. Finding the program that best suits your areas of interest, personality, location, and budget will pay dividends for your educational and career futures in sports.