If you’ve ever been to a high school or college sports match or visited a sports medicine doctor for an injury, you’ve likely seen an athletic trainer in action—maybe without realizing it. With school sports starting again, now’s the time to learn more about these important providers.
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) was formed in 1950 and the American Medical Association has recognized athletic training since 1991. The profession itself has been around since the 1800s. But because athletic trainers do so much behind-the-scenes work, including the certified athletic trainers with MultiCare Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, many people still don’t have a clear idea of the scope of their role.
In that light, here are five things you might not know about athletic trainers.
They’re different from personal trainers
One common misconception is that athletic trainers and personal trainers are the same thing, says Anna Gonzales, ATC. “When patients come to the clinic they’re sometimes surprised to see a ‘trainer’ there and think we’re going to help them do squats and get in shape. But in fact our role is very different,” she says.
Athletic trainers work alongside sports medicine doctors and other providers to help prevent, treat, and rehabilitate acute and chronic injuries and medical conditions. They perform many different functions throughout the course of a day, from assisting with patient care and treatments such as wound care and casting, coordinating care between clinics, and handling insurance claims.
They have a broad scope of responsibilities
When a patient first arrives at a sports medicine clinic, an athletic trainer typically performs the patient intake, takes vitals and a detailed history, performs an initial musculoskeletal exam, orders imaging, and presents findings to the sports medicine physician. After the physician determines the final diagnosis and treatment plan, the athletic trainer helps educate the patient on home exercises and treatment plan.
“The main goal of athletic training is to restore people to life and activity. Our overall focus is broad, but at MultiCare we function as clinical assistants to improve the efficiency and flow of the clinic and elevate the level of expertise in a patient’s treatment experience with a team approach,” says Chandra Lovejoy, ATC.
Athletic trainers also see many different types of patients. “In general, we focus on treating active people, but we also see patients of all ages who are relatively sedentary and want to have a better quality of life. We like to say we see patients from age 5 to 105,” says Tristan Fujita, ATC.
They work in many different settings
Within the Puget Sound region, MultiCare athletic trainers work in a sports medicine setting, assisting individual sports medicine physicians at a clinic. But outside of the Puget Sound region, MultiCare athletic trainers work in a more traditional physical therapy setting.
In general, athletic trainers might also work in hospitals, industrial settings, for professional sports teams, or in educational settings such as colleges, universities, elementary schools, and secondary schools.
They have advanced training
Athletic trainers need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, although according to NATA 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master’s degree, and as of last year, all new graduates will be masters prepared. The curriculum and clinical training of athletic trainers follows a medical-based education model that includes courses in biology, anatomy, nutrition, sports medicine, and kinesiology. Almost all states require athletic trainers to be licensed or certified to practice.
They love their jobs
For Gonzales, Lovejoy and Fujita, the opportunity to work alongside patients throughout the recovery journey is motivating and inspiring.
“I love being a guide post for patients by helping them understand their care plan better and feel more confident in what provider is helping them to do, and getting to see them when they come back and they’re feeling better,” says Fujita.
Lovejoy agrees. “I enjoy being an advocate and care coordinator for my patients by communicating both to the patient on their terms and to the provider on their terms,” she says.
“I really enjoy getting to know the patients, what fires them up and what they love to participate in, and I like to walk with them through their recovery process. When someone first gets hurt they’re in a pretty disappointed place in their life, so I’m able to support and encourage them. Once they can return to their sport, I get to see their joy and know that I helped them along their journey,” says Gonzales.