What is an athletic trainer?

Athletic trainers are different from personal trainers. Athletic trainers are health professionals who work to prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate sports-related injuries.

In my years as an athletic trainer, I’ve come to realize my profession is misunderstood as well as confused with many other professions. In honor of National Athletic Training Month, here is some insight to what an athletic trainer is and is not. We are not personal trainers, physical therapists or emergency medical personnel. We are health professionals who work to prevent, diagnose, treat and rehabilitate sports-related injuries.

It’s likely you have interacted with an athletic trainer, whether it was while you were playing sports yourself, watching your kids take part in athletics or even in a doctor’s office. athletic trainers handle emergent, acute and chronic injuries and medical conditions in a variety of settings — from on the field to in the clinic.

We often are the first line of defense when injuries occur. We are an integral part of the sports medicine team and work under the supervision of physicians. We are required to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited college or university and pass a certification exam with an independent national board.

Quick facts about athletic trainers from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association

  • 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master’s or doctorate degree.
  • Athletic trainers are licensed or otherwise regulated in 49 states, with efforts underway to pursue licensure in the 50th state, California.
  • 50 percent of athletic trainers work outside of school settings, including in the military, industrial sites, hospitals and physician offices.
  • Athletic trainers specialize in patient education to prevent injury and reduce rehabilitative and other health care costs.
  • Athletic trainers are recognized, qualified health care professionals. The American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, among others, are all strong clinical and academic supporters of athletic trainers.
  • Athletic trainers provide the same or better outcomes in clinical settings as other health providers.Results of a comparative analysis of care provided by athletic trainers and physical therapists in a clinical setting indicated ATs provide the same levels of outcomes, value and patient satisfaction.
  • Athletic trainers usually have a small window of time to assess and make return-to-play decisions on concussions, fractures and other serious injuries that happen on the field. We are always evolving as a profession to stay up-to-date on research and treatment that can help save lives.

Know the difference

  • Between athletic trainers and other rehabilitation specialists (physical therapists and occupational therapists)
    • Athletic trainers are trained in emergency care and typically the first to assess or treat an injury.
  • Between athletic trainers and emergency medical personnel
    • Athletic trainers have the ability to perform orthopedic assessments, rehabilitation and functional return to sports.

I ask one favor of you during National Athletic Training Month: When you are around an athletic trainer, thank them for the job they do. It is often a behind-the-scenes, thankless job with long hours, but it is one athletic trainers are passionate about because we are able to help athletes and patients of all ages stay safe and active.


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