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Athletic Trainer Defined

Defining an Athletic Trainer

Certified Athletic Trainers help prevent and treat injuries for people of all ages. Their clients include everyone from professional athletes to industrial workers. Recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) as highly qualified, multi-skilled allied health professionals, Certified Athletic Trainers (ATC) specialize in the prevention, assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal injuries. ATC’s are also sometimes referred to as sports therapists or sports medicine practitioners and are the centerpiece of the sports medicine team. They serve as a liaison to the athlete, coach, physician and other supplemental personnel providing care to athletes sustaining physical or emotional trauma. Additionally, 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 should not be confused with fitness trainers or personal trainers, who are not health care workers, but rather train people to become physically fit.

ATC’s can work in physician offices as a physician extender. They also work in rural and urban hospitals, hospital emergency rooms, urgent and ambulatory care centers, military hospitals, physical therapy clinics, high schools, colleges/universities, commercial settings, professional sports teams and performing arts companies. They are multi-skilled healthcare workers who, like others in the medical community with science-based degrees, are in great demand because of the continuing and increasing shortage of registered nurses and other healthcare workers. The skills of ATC’s have been sought and valued by sports medicine specialists and other physicians for more than 50 years. As the U.S. begins its fight against the obesity epidemic, it is important that people have access to health care professionals who can support lifelong physical activity.

Athletic Trainer Certification

Athletic trainers are certified through The Board of Certification, Inc.
The BOC is the only accredited certification program for athletic trainers in the US. Every five years, the BOC must undergo review and re-accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA is the accreditation body of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA).

Continuing educational units (CEU’s) requirements (85 hours per three years) are meant to ensure that certified individuals stay current in the field of athletic training as well as expanding their medical knowledge in related healthcare fields. The main purpose of the requirements is:

  • Obtain current professional development information
  • Explore new knowledge in specific content areas
  • Master new athletic training‑related skills and techniques
  • Expand approaches to effective athletic training
  • Further develop professional judgment
  • Conduct professional practice in an ethical and appropriate manner

Collegiate Athletic Training Educational Accreditation

All certified or licensed athletic trainers must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited college or university. Degrees are complementary to accredited athletic training majors and include established academic curriculum. Athletic trainers’ bachelor’s degrees are in pre-medical sciences, kinesiology, exercise physiology, biology, exercise science or physical education.

Standards for the Accreditation of Athletic Training Education Programs are conducted by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). CAATE is sponsored by The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

It is each institution’s responsibility to demonstrate compliance with these Standards in order to obtain and maintain recognition as a CAATE accredited Athletic Training Education Program (ATEP). A list of accredited programs is published and available to the public.

Athletic Training in Action

Athletic trainers often are one of the first healthcare providers on the scene when injuries occur, therefore they must be able to recognize, evaluate, and assess injuries and provide immediate care when needed. They also are heavily involved in the rehabilitation and reconditioning of injuries. Specifically, the Certified Athletic Trainer's role delineation encompasses six domains:

  • Athletic Injury Prevention and Risk Management
  • Recognition, Evaluation and Assessment of Injuries and Illnesses
  • Immediate Care of Injuries
  • Treatment, Rehabilitation and Reconditioning
  • Health Care Organization and Administration
  • Professional Development and Responsibility

As allied health professionals, athletic training is the most evolving professional practice, which could have a key ingredient to reducing healthcare cost in the United States. Athletic Trainers help avoid unnecessary medical treatment and disruption of normal daily life; if injured, they are trained to work with healthcare providers to get the client on the mend and keep them on the move. The bottom-line regarding the credibility of Certified Athletic Trainers: If they are qualified to provide all phases of treatment/rehabilitation including injury assessment for multi-millionaire professional athletes than they are qualified to provide care for the general population within their scope of training. Public awareness should note the treatment of an adolescent or adult person does not change simply because the injury or treatment location changes. Whether the person is on a soccer field or manufacturing floor, athletic trainers are qualified and capable of developing treatment plans and recognizing conditions that require physician referral.

ATC’s provide the same or better outcomes in clinical settings as other providers, including physical therapists. Results of a comparative analysis of care provided by certified athletic trainers and physical therapists in a clinical setting indicated ATC’s provide the same levels of outcomes, value and client satisfaction as physical therapists in a clinical setting (ref: Reimbursement of Athletic Training by Albohm, MJ; Campbell, Konin, pp.25). client satisfaction ratings are more than 96 percent when treatment is provided by ATC’s.

Recent studies, reports, outcomes measures surveys, total joint replacement studies and many other case studies demonstrate how the services of ATC’s save money for employers and improve quality of life for clients. For each $1 invested in preventive care, employers gained up to a $7 return on investment according to one NATA survey. The use of certified athletic trainers supports a consumer-driven healthcare economy that increases competition in order to reduce client and disease costs. Through the use of proper rehabilitation and evaluation, athletic trainers prevent re-injury. The client’s standard of care is enhanced, not sacrificed, with ATC’s.

“As a state legislator concerned with health policy, affordable and accessible health care for all people is my primary concern. We must look for innovative solutions to providing health care because of the increasing shortages of nurses and other health care workers. One of the best ways to deliver health care services in the community is to better utilize certified athletic trainers. Athletic trainers are multi-skilled allied health care professionals who provide a unique combination of injury and illness treatment and rehabilitation with a substantial dose of injury prevention and general wellness.”
-- Representative Jerry Krummel, Oregon House of Representatives, District 26

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Related Major Skills

  • Problem Solving
  • Working with People
  • Analyzing Injuries
  • Demonstrating physical stretches and rehabilitative movements
  • Taping, Bandaging, and Stretching Athletes
  • Operating modality machines and other training equipment
  • Motor Skills
  • Deductive Reasoning Skills
  • Communication (inform proper nutrition & diet for athletes)
  • Referring athletes to appropriate physicians when necessary
  • Monitor rehabilitative programs
  • Maintain poise in emergency situations
  • Basic First-Aid and CPR Skills / Certification
  • Recording, organizing and storing information on injuries and rehabilitation
  • Proficient knowledge in anatomy, physiology and biology
  • Implement exercise & rehabilitation programs for athletes
  • Work well under stress
  • Good judgment and decision-making


Career Planning Links (Certified Athletic Trainer)
Becoming An Athletic Trainer
Human Kinetics: careers in athletic training and related career fields
Athletic Trainers (from US Dept of Labor)
Allied Health Profession - Athletic Training

Athletic Training Career Overview
http://www.mayo.edu/mshs/at-career.html
http://www.netwellness.org/healthtopics/athletic/5.cfm
http://www.iseek.org/sv/13000.jsp?id=100013
Athletic Training Employment Issues Handbook and Guide (pdf)

Sports Medicine Careers
http://sportsmedicine.about.com/cs/jobs/a/aa061303a.htm
http://www.sportsmedicine.com/
http://www.diversityalliedhealth.com/features/04-05-04a.htm
Sports Careers
Sports Medicine
What does a certified Athletic Trainer do?

Professional Associations
Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education
NATA Education Council
NATA Research & Education Foundation
National Athletic Trainers' Association
American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine
American Medical Society for Sports Medicine
National Athletic Trainers' Association Board of Certification
American College of Sports Medicine
The National Strength & Conditioning Association
National Collegiate Athletic Association
National Exercise & Sports Trainer Association
American Physical Therapy Association
American Society of Exercise Physiologists
Center for Exercise Physiology
Michigan Trainers' Society
American Sports Medicine Institute
Gatorade Sport Science Institute
Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association
Journal of Athletic Training

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Athletic Trainers

The FACTS about Certified Athletic Trainers and the National Athletic Trainers' Association

FACT: All athletic trainers have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals equivalent to physical, occupational, speech, language and other similar therapists.

ALL certified or licensed athletic trainers must have a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited college or university. Degrees are complementary to accredited athletic training majors and include established academic curricula. Athletic trainers' bachelor's degrees are in pre-medical sciences, kinesiology, exercise physiology, biology, exercise science or physical education. Academic programs are accredited through an independent process by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) via the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Athletic Training (JRC-AT).

FACT: The following educational content standards are required for athletic training degree programs:

  • Acute care of injury and illness
  • Assessment of injury and illness
  • Exercise physiology
  • General medical conditions and disabilities
  • Healthcare administration
  • Human anatomy
  • Human physiology
  • Kinesiology/biomechanics
  • Medical ethics and legal issues
  • Nutritional aspects of injury and illness
  • Pathology of injury and illness
  • Pharmacology
  • Professional development and responsibilities
  • Psychosocial intervention and referral
  • Risk management and injury/illness prevention
  • Statistics and research design
  • Strength training and reconditioning
  • Therapeutic exercise and rehabilitative techniques
  • Therapeutic modalities
  • Weight management and body composition

The competency areas are as follows:

  • Risk Management and Injury Prevention
  • Pathology of Injury and Illness
  • Assessment and Evaluation
  • Acute Care of Injury and Illness
  • Pharmacology
  • Therapeutic Modalities
  • Therapeutic Exercise
  • General Medical Conditions and Disabilities
  • Nutritional Aspects of Injury and Illness
  • Psychosocial Intervention and Referral
  • Health Care Administration
  • Professional Development and Responsibilities

FACT: 70 percent of athletic trainers have a master's degree or doctorate.
Certified athletic trainers are highly educated. Seventy (70) percent of ATC credential holders have a master's degree or more advanced degree. Reflective of the broad base of skills valued by the athletic training profession, these master's degrees may be in athletic training (clinical), education, exercise physiology, counseling or health care administration or promotion. This great majority of practitioners who hold advance degrees are comparable to other allied health care professionals, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, registered nurses, speech therapists and many other health care practitioners.

FACT: Athletic trainers know and practice the medical arts at the highest professional standards.
Athletic trainers specialize in injury and illness prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation for all physically active people, including the general public.

FACT: Athletic trainers are regulated and licensed healthcare workers.
While practice act oversight varies by state, the athletic trainer practices under state statutes recognizing them as health care professionals similar to physical therapists, occupational therapists and similar professionals.

FACT: An independent national board certifies athletic trainers.
The independent Board of Certification Inc. (BOC) nationally certifies athletic trainers. Athletic trainers must pass an examination and hold a bachelor's degree to become an Athletic Trainer, Certified (ATC). To retain certification, ATC credential holders must obtain 80 hours of medically related continuing education credits every three years and adhere to a Code of Ethics. The BOC is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

FACT: Athletic trainers are recognized allied healthcare professionals.
ATC’s are highly qualified, multi-skilled allied healthcare professionals and have been part of the American Medical Association's Health Professions Career and Education Directory for more than a decade. Additionally, 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.

FACT: More than 50 percent of NATA's certified athletic trainer members work outside of school athletic settings and provide services to physically active people of all ages.
Certified athletic trainers work in physician offices as physician extenders. They also work in rural and urban hospitals, hospital emergency rooms, urgent and ambulatory care centers, military hospitals, physical therapy clinics, high schools, colleges/universities, commercial settings, professional sports teams and performing arts companies. They are multi-skilled healthcare workers who, like others in the medical community with science-based degrees, are in great demand because of the continuing and increasing shortage of registered nurses and other healthcare workers. The skills of ATC’s have been sought and valued by sports medicine specialists and other physicians for more than 50 years. As the U.S. begins its fight against the obesity epidemic, it is important that people have access to healthcare professionals who can support lifelong physical activity.

FACT: Athletic trainers have designated CPT/UB Codes.
The American Medical Association (AMA) granted Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for athletic training evaluation and re-evaluation (97005, 97006) in 2000. The codes became effective in 2002. In addition, the American Hospital Association established Uniform Billing (UB) codes — or revenue codes — for athletic training in 1999, effective 2000.

FACT: CPT and UB codes are not provider specific.
The AMA states that the term “provider,” as found in the Physical Medicine section of the CPT code, is a general term used to define the individual performing the service described by the code. According to the AMA, the term “therapist” is not intended to denote any specific practice or specialty field. Physical therapists and/or any other type of therapists are not the exclusive providers of general physical medicine examinations, evaluations and interventions. Similar to the athletic training evaluation and re-evaluation codes, other therapists have their own specific evaluation codes.

FACT: ATC’s improve client functional and physical outcomes.
Results from a nationwide Medical Outcomes Survey conducted 1996-1998 demonstrate that care provided by ATC’s effects a significant change in all outcomes variables measured, with the greatest change in functional outcomes and physical outcomes. The investigation indicates that care provided by ATC’s generates a change in health-related quality of life client outcomes.

(ref: Albohm MJ, Wilkerson GB. An outcomes assessment of care provided by certified athletic trainers. J Rehabil. Outcomes Meas. 1999; 3(3):51-56.)

FACT: ATC’s frequently work in rural, frontier and medically underserved areas and with physically active people of all ages.
ATC’s are accustomed to working in urgent care environments that have challenging sometimes even adverse work and environmental conditions. The athletic training tradition and hands-on clinical and academic education combine to create a healthcare professional who is flexible and inventive ideal managers of client care and healthcare delivery. ATC’s are generally a replacement not an addition to other types of physical medicine therapies performed; therefore, costs for providing therapy are not increased with the use of athletic training services.

FACT: ATC’s specialize in client education to prevent injury and re-injury and reduce rehabilitative and other healthcare costs.
Recent studies, reports, outcomes measures surveys, total joint replacement studies and many other case studies demonstrate how the services of ATC’s save money for employers and improve quality of life for clients. For each $1 invested in preventive care, employers gained up to a $7 return on investment according to one NATA survey. The use of certified athletic trainers supports a market-driven healthcare economy that increases competition in order to reduce client and disease costs. Through the use of proper rehabilitation and evaluation, athletic trainers prevent re-injury. The client's standard of care is enhanced, not sacrificed, with ATC’s.

FACT: ATC’s provide the same or better outcomes in clinical settings as other providers, including physical therapists.
Results of a comparative analysis of care provided by certified athletic trainers and physical therapists in a clinical setting indicated ATC’s provide the same levels of outcomes, value and client satisfaction as physical therapists in a clinical setting (ref: Reimbursement of Athletic Training by Albohm, MJ; Campbell, Konin, pp.25). client satisfaction ratings are more than 96 percent when treatment is provided by ATC’s.

FACT: The National Athletic Trainers' Association represents 30,000 members.
The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), founded in 1950, represents more than 30,000 members of the international profession. Of the total membership, 24,000 are ATC’s, representing more than 90 percent of all athletic trainers practicing in the United States. Annual membership retention averages 92 percent. NATA accurately claims the distinction of representing the great majority of athletic training professionals.

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