An athletic trainer seeks to prevent, diagnose, and treat patients and athletes in addition to the provision of emergent care, and rehabilitation of injuries. The National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) is the overarching governing body over the athletic trainers’ scope of practice. Athletic training programs are also recognized by healthcare bodies such as the American Medical Association (AMA).
Athletic Trainers are professionals in the healthcare industry who offer services or treatment in collaboration with physicians. Other departments that work in collaboration with NATA include the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA).
What is a Licensed Athletic Trainer?
A license is an essential requirement for athletic trainers to be permitted to practice. To become a licensed athletic trainer, you need a Master’s degree in athletic training from an accredited institution or training program and have successfully passed the Board of Certification exam.
Athletic trainers in 49 U.S. states must obtain a state license after completing their studies. ATs should also complete several continuing education units to maintain their certificates. You also qualify to become a mid-level healthcare provider by applying for a National Provider Identifier (NPI). ATs use taxonomy code 2255A2300X for HIPAA transactions.
Athletic training professionals need to keep up with the changing information in their field. This calls for continuing education. NATA offers a wide range of continuing education opportunities through online courses, webinars, workshops, AT expos, and clinical symposia.
After achieving the title of ATC, the Board of Certification requires you to do the following:
- Comply with BOC standards of practice
- Keep up-to-date with CPR and First Aid training
- Pay the annual maintenance fee
- Report continuing education hours and credits
- Renew membership annually
What Do Licensed Athletic Trainers Do?
As mentioned in the introduction, athletic trainers are highly qualified health science professionals. athletic trainers provide athletic healthcare to athletes during practice and the actual game. They also offer care services to athletes when recovering after an injury.
The day-to-day duties of licensed athletic trainers include:
- First-hand medical responses to injured athletes at practice, competitions, and traveling on the road
- Evaluating and diagnosing injuries and minor illnesses
- Injury prevention measures like tying bandages and applying tape and braces to vulnerable areas of the body
- Formulating treatment and rehabilitation programs in collaboration with injured athletes, coaching staffs, physicians, and athletes’ families
- Written reports, status updates, and other administrative tasks
Why are Athletic Trainers Important?
Athletic trainers are a vital piece of athletic performance and safety because they protect athletes prior to an injury or illness, during the course of play, and after an incident. In fact, NATA describes athletic trainers as highly qualified healthcare professionals. They provide primary care, management, and prevention of injuries as well as promote proper and adequate recovery.
Athletic trainers offer injured athletes emergency response services, minor medical examinations, and clinical diagnoses under the supervision of a team or practicing physician. Their scope of work also requires them to provide therapeutic intervention and injury rehabilitation.
By following specific state regulations and educational guidelines, athletic trainers act as the first medical professionals at the injury scene where athletes are playing or practicing. Certified athletic trainers collaborate with physicians, coaches, athletes, and even the athletes’ families to enhance positive healthcare outcomes and effective delivery methods to speed recovery and get athletes back on the field in a safe and timely manner.
Athletic Trainers in High Schools
ATs provide first-response to injured high-school players, including in life-threatening situations. They also work with physicians to provide healthcare services to students participating in athletic and recreational school activities.
Athletic trainers facilitate effective communication between students, parents, physicians, and coaches in high school and collaborate with coaches in the athletic programs to facilitate energy prevention strategies.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) recommends that every high school should hire full-time athletic trainers. Unfortunately though, according to Reuters, only 7,000 of 20,272 high schools in the U.S had full-time trainers between 2015-2018. This statistic, along with enhanced benefits education to schools and other organizations, shows more students are needed in athletic trainer degree programs to fill the employment gap.
Athletic Trainers in Colleges and Universities
Moreso than at the high school level, universities, especially those competing at the Division 1 level, employ multiple athletic trainers on staff to maintain the health and safety of their programs’ athletes.
According to Trevor Francesconi, Sports Editor, New York University, athletic trainers create a positive physical and mental impact on the athletes’ health. Providing comprehensive healthcare that includes physical, emotional, social, and mental well-being undoubtedly contributes to teams’ success, both on the field of play and off.
At the college level, athletic trainers are typically designated to one or more teams. This allows the fostering of relationships between trainers and athletes and builds trust between them. That trust is helpful when injury or accident strikes as an athlete will likely respond more positively to a trainer with whom they’ve been working for the duration of the collegiate career.
Degrees in Athletic Training
Students seeking to pursue a degree in athletic training should understand that their nature of work involves sports medicine. You also need to prepare for a lengthier stint of education as a Master’s degree is the bare minimum to become a certified athletic trainer. Previously, you only needed an undergraduate level of training, but the AT Strategic Alliance approved the raising of the requirement in 2022. ATs that acquired their national certification before the new directive are not required to earn an additional degree. According to NATA, over 70% of athletic trainers in the U.S hold a Master’s degree.
The primary governing body of athletics training programs is called The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). After completing a CAATE-recognized program, you will also have to pass the BOC exam to be eligible for national certification.
Athletic Training Program Curriculum
A competency-based approach in the classroom and clinical set-up produces highly capable athletic trainers. Graduates of an athletic training curriculum enter the workforce well-equipped with the knowledge of comprehensive patient care through a medical-based learning model. Athletic Training education focuses on five core domains:
- Clinical diagnosis and evaluation
- Emergency response
- Treatment and rehabilitation
- Professional and organizational level continued health and well-being
Knowledge and skills are essential educational requirements for any CAATE-accredited AT education program.
You need to acquire clinical abilities and a broad scope of behaviors required for the practice.
The following subject matter areas must be included in the training;
- Evidence-based practice
- Health promotion and prevention
- Clinical examination
- Clinical diagnosis
- Injury and illness acute care
- Therapeutic healthcare interventions
- Psychosocial strategies, support, and referral
- Administration of healthcare
- Professional responsibility and development
CAATE Accredited Athletic Training Programs
Different learning institutions may offer unique AT programs, but there are only 3 types of educational programs for athletic trainers accredited by CAATE.
- Professional Programs
Professional programs earn you eligibility to take the BOC exam. You can take the professional programs at both the baccalaureate and Master’s degree levels.
- Post-Professional Degree Programs
These programs enable you to acquire a Master’s or doctorate in athletic training. The program’s sole purpose is to enhance your knowledge and skills in the AT field. You will be exposed to advanced-level research and clinical experiences, placing you in a better position to take a high-profile job after completion.
- Residency Programs
Residency programs offer additional training through structured curricula to expand the ATs’ knowledge and experience in professional programs. These are often geared toward ATs looking to work in hospital settings.
University Regional Accreditations
CAATE has listed all the universities and colleges accredited for athletic training. Find your institution of choice and visit their website to enroll.
Types of Athletic Training Accreditations
There are 6 professionally recognized athletic training certifications. You have to sit for a certification exam and pass it to start practicing.
- Athletic Trainer Certification
BOC offers certification for Master’s degree athletic trainers and continuing education requirements. This helps to maintain your certification.
- Certified Athletic Trainer
The National Athletic Trainer Association provides the certification to ATs after passing the Board of Certification exam. The certification follows BOC’s guidelines and standards of practice, such as continuing education. The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) works with physicians to develop the CAT program
- CE Certification
The CE certification is a by-product of the collaboration between the Board of Certifications for Certified Athletic Trainers (BOCATC) and the state’s regulatory organization. ATs with a CE certification can work in learning institutions, corporate institutions, hospitals, fire departments, and minor sports teams.
- Physician Assistant Certification (PA-C)
The distinct certification best serves physician assistants who wish to become athletic trainers. The National Commission on Certification of Physical Assistants issues the certificates
- Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)
ATs are responsible for the physical and mental well-being of athletes. Therefore, the CRC certification allows ATs to offer professional counseling to athletes. The commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) is a not-for-profit organization that has certified over 30,000 counselors.
- Sports Medicine- ABP Certification
The American Board of Pediatrics offers the ABP certification to those interested in elementary or high school athletic training. You will need to undergo a one-year training program to get accreditation from the Council for Graduate Medical Education.
Benefits of an Athletic Trainer Degree
An athletic trainer degree equips you with knowledge and skills in healthcare provision to athletes. You will learn how to perform clinical examination and diagnosis, emergency care, treatment and prevention of injuries, and rehabilitation of recovering athletes. Athletic training offers students a learning opportunity to advance their clinical reasoning, conduct patient-centered research, and work in diverse environments and versatile healthcare systems.
While a Bachelor’s degree in any field holds numerous benefits, a Master’s degree carries much more significance for students pursuing a career as an AT. A Master’s degree will enhance your skills and widen your career options, however, it’s also now the minimum certification requirement.
Benefits of a Master’s degree in athletic training include:
- Better Salaries: You will be on the higher end of the salary scale. You could earn twice the annual median salary of an athletic trainer, which is $48,420.
- Advanced Knowledge and Awareness: More educational training means more knowledge, which you can subsequently pass on to the healthcare team and patients you work with. A Master’s degree in athletic training teaches you how to provide patient-centered care. This type of healthcare requires the patient and the family be responsible for their health. Ultimately, your patients learn how to apply the knowledge to their day-to-day lives. This leads to a better quality of life and satisfaction with the healthcare outcomes you provide while they are under your care.
- Diverse career opportunities: When applying for the same positions, you have a competitive advantage over those without a Master’s degree. Most athletic trainer positions require candidates with a Master’s degree. Those extra courses through continuing education will also prepare you for advanced clinical practice. Research opportunities and jobs also look for the highest levels of education in their candidate pool.
- Placement In A Fast Growing Industry: There is a high demand for athletic trainers with a Master’s degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 17% growth in employment rate between 2021-2031.
- Potential for High Profile Patients: The simple explanation for this lucrative opportunity is to imagine working with the Bulls or Arsenal. It would be rewarding to know that you are helping LeBron James stay in good shape for his next game!
Length of Athletic Training Programs
The length of initial accreditation offered by CAATE to a program is 5 years while continuing accreditation for professional programs is 10 years.
Residency and post-professional programs take about 7 years to receive accreditation status.
The above information means; it will take about 5 years to receive your first-time athletic accreditation.
Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin offers a 5-year comprehensive AT program where you will study for bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
Upon selection into the Master’s in athletic trainer degree, you will start by studying for a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology. You will then continue into your Master’s in AT.
You will have a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and a Master’s in athletic training at the end of year 5.
Different universities and colleges have different duration. Confirm with your institution of choice.
Standard Athletic Training Curriculum
NATA dictates that students should be exposed to the following subjects in order to qualify as a fully-accredited athletic training program:
- Evidence-based practice
Students learn how to apply scientific research in making the best healthcare decisions. The goal is to enhance effective treatment and positive outcomes.
- Prevention and health promotion
AT students are equipped with knowledge and skills on how to prevent injuries. A patient-centered approach enables them to understand how athletes can care for their own health.
- Clinical examination and diagnosis
ATs are highly-skilled healthcare professionals; therefore, they acquire the knowledge and skills to examine and diagnose a condition.
- Acute care of injury and illness
Students learn how to treat severe injuries and illnesses which require intensive healthcare. A good example is musculoskeletal injuries.
- Therapeutic interventions
Therapeutic intervention training equips AT students with practical knowledge of physical exercise. They are taught chiropractic and physiotherapy to boost the general fitness of athletes.
- Psychosocial strategies and referral
Students are taught how to support athletes regain a stable mental state before, during, and after an injury.
- Health care administration
Students learn how to manage the day-to-day activities of the healthcare team
- Professional development and responsibility
Students learn how they can advance their professional needs while observing the set standards of practice.
Standard Entrance Requirements
Bachelor’s Degree for Masters
Different universities may require different bachelor’s degree qualifications. Some of the common bachelor’s degrees you can earn to qualify for the Master’s program include:
- Exercise and Physiology
- Exercise Science
You will need a minimum of 3.00 cumulative GPA to qualify for most programs.
You will need 3 recommendation letters from individuals who know you. The letter should highlight your capacity to succeed as an AT. Ensure that at least one of your recommendations comes from a current professional ATC.
The application cost for an athletic trainer degree differs depending on the learning institution. On average, it will cost you about $50. There may also be an additional charge if you are apply as an international student.
A personal statement is an official letter stating your motivation for wanting to join an AT program in detail. Following the prompts issued by the university of choice, each school’s personal statement will have slightly different lines of questioning.
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test for a wide array of graduate-level programming. It’s often an admissions requirement in the United States, though many programs will waive a GRE test score in lieu of several years of work experience, depending on the program you plan to enter. The GRE is owned and administered by Educational Testing Service.
Career Placement and Salary
Athletic trainers can work in virtually any environment of their choosing, depending on personal goals and interests. However, the majority of athletic trainers work in learning institutions like universities, colleges, high schools, and elementary schools or for professional sports teams or elite-level athletics travel teams, programs, clinics, or community organizations like the YMCA. But, ATCs are also needed in hospitals, industrial centers, fitness centers, and physicians’ offices.
There is a massive predicted job growth of 23% for athletic trainers between 2020-2030. You can also choose to work as a freelance athletic trainer by providing private services. Start by marketing your services and get job contracts for local sporting events or school competitions needing additional coverage. Of course, you could also freelance in addition to working full-time in schools, professional sports organizations, hospitals, or corporate offices.
How Much Does an Athletic Trainer Earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an athletic trainer earns, on average, $48,420 annually. The highest-paid ATCs earn around $76,180 while the starting salaries begin closer to $36,960 annually. Like any profession, salary figures may vary depending on the level of your qualification, the number of years of work experience in your particular location or state, or the individual budget of the institution hiring you.
Also according to the BLS, Texas state had the highest athletic trainers employment rate in 2021. The state had 2,420 employed athletic trainers with a mean wage of $59,120 annually. However, as a metropolitan area, San Jose in California had the highest salary rates at $71,100 per year.
Universities and Colleges Athletic Trainers
There are more than 5,000 universities and colleges in the United States. This means you can apply to one of the institutions and stand a chance to kick-start your career.
High-school athletic Trainers
Gain your work experience through a public or private high school. Since high schools offer a wide variety of games, you will get an opportunity to explore your area of interest.
Military and Law Enforcement Agencies Athletic Trainers
athletic training is not a role within military training; therefore, you get a rare opportunity to interact with the army as a civilian.
Health Care Facility Athletic Trainers
Clinics, physicians’ offices, and hospitals collaborate with athletic trainers to offer high-quality healthcare services.
Commercial Business Athletic Trainers
Industrial and business manager’s higher athletic trainers to keep their employees physically and mentally healthy. This helps to boost a positive work attitude leading to increased productivity.
Performing Arts Centers Athletic Trainers
Dancers, acrobats, and martial artists, among others, engage in many physical activities that may lead to injuries.
Professional Sports Athletic Trainer
Being part of the world professional sports team is the most lucrative career for an athletic trainer. It allows you to apply your skills by working with world-renowned athletes on a national stage.
Dr. Hannah, Clinical Education Coordinator at Kent State University, offers more advice on ATs career opportunities.