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Certified athletic trainers (ATCs) are highly educated and skilled allied health care professionals who specialize in preventing, assessing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of physically active people. Athletic trainers practice under the direction of a physician and in cooperation with other allied health care personnel such as physical therapists, occupational therapists, and registered nurses. Often, the ATC is the first line of defense in providing care for athletic injuries, making them an integral member of the athletic health care team in secondary schools, colleges and universities, sports medicine clinics, and professional sports programs. A typical day for an ATC varies with the level of competition, employment setting and other institutional requirements. In the school athletic setting, the ATC may spend their day working with athletes and coaches on preventing injuries through strength, conditioning, or perhaps nutrition programming. Prior to practices and games, the ATC tapes, bandages, braces and completes similar preventative measures. During activities, the ATC evaluates injuries and determines whether the athlete should be referred to a physician or follow standing orders and manage minor injuries. The ATC must ensure continual communication between an injured athlete, the physician, coach and family on when and how the athlete can return safely to practice and competition. Because ATCs are multi-skilled health care providers, they can also be found working as physician extenders in physician offices and hospitals, in physical therapy clinics, in industrial settings, in the military, and with the performing arts. As specialists in the prevention, recognition, and rehabilitation of injuries incurred by physically active individuals, ATCs provide immediate emergency care and use their knowledge of injuries and the factors influencing injuries to develop treatment programs based on medical, exercise and sports sciences.
Certified athletic trainers have, at minimum, a bachelor's degree from an accredited athletic training education program. These programs can be found at colleges and universities under various professional titles such as athletic training, movement science, exercise physiology, kinesiology, allied health, or physical education. All athletic training education programs are currently accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) via the Joint Review Committee – Athletic Training (JRC-AT). However, the JRC-AT is leaving CAAHEP and as of July 1, 2006, programs will be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education Programs (CAATE). Athletic training students study human anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, nutrition, and psychology. Students also participate in extensive clinical education experiences, where they have the opportunity to develop psychomotor skills under the supervision of a clinical instructor. Upon graduation, students are eligible to sit for the Board of Certification (BOC) examination. Successful completion of the BOC examination is required in order to use the ATC credential, and the exam is based on six major practice domains:
While the BOC's ATC credential is currently recognized by 43 states, practice laws and regulations vary. It is important to check state requirements prior to employment.
Because athletic trainers can be found in a variety of settings, individuals interested in pursuing this field of study may want to gain work experience that involves sport and movement activities, summer sports camps, sports medicine/physical therapy clinics, hospitals, and physician offices.
High school courses in the areas of biology, chemistry, physics, sport, fitness, first aid, and CPR are useful to complete in preparation for studying athletic training. Volunteering in the school athletic training room, at local hospitals or sports medicine clinics is valuable.
With a bachelor's degree and successful completion of the BOC examination, an ATC may find full time or part time employment in a variety of settings, including, but not limited to school athletic programs. According to the National Athletic Trainers Association, today, more than 50% of its certified members are employed in settings other than "traditional" school athletics. Recognized by the American Medical Association in 1990 as an allied health provider, the certified athletic trainer is in great demand in physician offices, hospitals, sports medicine/physical therapy clinics and outreach programs, and in occupational/industrial settings. Employment opportunities are growing as the allied health care industries' recognition of the multiple skills and talents of the ATC continue to expand.