For most people, an injury during a sporting event is a break in the action. When someone stays down on the field, you either change the channel until he or she hobbles off, or if it’s more serious, you sit and watch, holding your breath, hoping it isn’t too bad of an injury.
But what’s a timeout for everyone else is a call to action for athletic trainers. If you have ever found yourself more interested in these injury timeouts than the average spectator, have an interest in sports and medicine — or maybe just an interest in entering a growing field with decent pay — you may want to pursue a career as an athletic trainer yourself.
What an Athletic Trainer Does
As you may have guessed, there’s more to being an athletic trainer than standing on the sideline with a fanny pack, taping up ankles, and kneeling beside injured players on the field every now and then. Unlike other medical professions, athletic trainers don’t just concentrate on one part of the body or one particular way of helping people be healthy. They help athletes avoid injury — yes, they do tape ankles — they treat injuries, and also help them rehabilitate injuries, all by applying their knowledge of anatomy, pathology, and biomechanics.
No matter what particular aspect of the job an athletic trainer focuses on the most, he or she still will spend a lot of time acting as a liaison between the injured person, a doctor, a coach and maybe the injured person’s family to use their expertise to recommend things like if the person is ready to get back to practicing or playing.
Is It Athletic Training Right for You?
This field typically involves a lot of travel and loss of weekends. If you don’t see yourself being able to travel with a team and sit through a lot of games you might be interested in the rehabilitation side of athletic training. There are many aspects of athletic rehabilitation that can be appealing, including water rehabilitation therapy, which could be more appealing to you – especially if you’d prefer to spend your days poolside.
So if you’re trying to decide if athletic training is a career you’d like to pursue, you need to ask yourself not only if you’re comfortable doing hands-on work with patients, traveling with a team, and working with some potentially gruesome injuries, but also if you are a good communicator and capable of dealing with the pressure of deciding whether or not a star player has to sit out.
Where Athletic Trainers Work
Despite what the name might have you think, you can find athletic trainers working in other places besides the staff of an athletic team. The military is beginning to employ more athletic trainers, and even if you don’t feel like enlisting, you could still help injured service men by working at on- and off-base wellness centers or in programs that help new recruits get ready for the rigors of military training. Athletic trainers can also work for law enforcement agencies in the same capacity as they would for the military.
Athletic trainers are also finding work in an industrial setting as well. There they help companies keep their employees as productive as possible by implementing injury reduction and return to work programs. Companies love having them on board, because they not only improve their employees’ health but also cut back on their insurance costs.
Prefer to be around the performing rather than a battlefield, football field or construction site? Athletic trainers help care for dancers, musicians and even vocalists. Groups, venues and acts as famous as Cirque du Soleil or the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes all employ personal trainers to help keep their artists healthy.
Of course, the name athletic trainer is not a complete misnomer. They do work on the more traditional type of athletics as well, mostly for sports teams. Though working for a professional sports team is not exactly an entry-level position, high schools all across the country employ athletic trainers.
Job Outlook for Athletic Trainers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the athletic trainer position is expected to grow by 19% from 2012-2022, which is good news, because that’s faster than the average for other jobs over that same time period. They attribute this rise to increased awareness and concern over sports injuries among young people, meaning the growth will occur especially in youth leagues, high schools and colleges.
In 2012, the BLS pegged an athletic trainer’s median pay at $42,690, while another source found athletic trainers usually made between $35,000 and $75,000. The most lucrative area to be an athletic trainer was in the performing arts, which had an average salary of $56,135 — I guess the Rockettes pay well. The good news is the average salary, like the job market for athletic trainers, has been on a steady rise since 2003.
Education and Training for Athletic Trainers
If any of the above sound like places where you might want to work, you’ll need to know how to become qualified before you start looking to send applications. To become an athletic trainer, you first need to graduate from a university with a four-year degree in an athletic training program accredited by the appropriately named Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).
Here is a list of universities that offer bachelor degrees in programs accredited by the CAATE. If you already have a degree, you can either go back to school for another four-year degree or apply to a master’s program, which you can also find in that link. The degree, however, is just the first step.
After that, you still need to get certified by taking an exam administered by the also appropriately named Board of Certification. Once you’re certified, though, you’re free to apply to be an athletic trainer anywhere. I’ll look for you on TV during the injury timeouts.