What is an Athletic Trainer?

Jill Murphy Athletic TrainerCelebrating Athletic Training Month! The following is a Q & A with MotionWorks’ Licensed/Certified Athletic Trainer, Dr. Jill Murphy, in celebration of March as Athletic Training Month!

What is an Athletic Trainer and what do you do?

An athletic trainer is a board certified and state licensed health care provider of medical services for physically active people. Athletic trainers can work in a variety of settings including outpatient clinics, high schools, colleges, professional sports teams, Olympic teams, in workplaces, with the military, NASA, professional dance and music groups, and more! Athletic trainers also provide medical services at large scale events like walks, runs from 5K’s to marathons, triathlons, and many more community events requiring active participation! So chances are, your medical needs have been covered by an athletic trainer, whether or not you knew it!

What type of medical services do you provide?

Athletic trainers practice sports medicine in the following ways: injury prevention, emergency medical planning, evaluation/assessment of injuries or medical conditions, treatments, triage care and refer to other appropriate healthcare professionals or specialists when necessary, educate future athletic trainers, and participate in the administration of health care for athletic populations. Athletic trainers are also actively involved in the health and wellness of the populations we serve, and frequently provide advice on appropriate hydration, nutrition, strength &conditioning practices, and training parameters designed to improve athletic performance and reduce injury risk. In addition to performing these activities for athletes, many athletic trainers interface with the general public and workers in industries that provide athletic training services onsite to improve healthcare and reduce lost time due to injuries and reduce overall injury rates.

Does every high school have an athletic trainer on-site?

No! Unfortunately, there is a great disparity between high schools with and without a part or full time athletic trainer. Some schools have no athletic training coverage, especially those in rural areas or underserved areas like the Milwaukee inner city. Other schools have some coverage for some events or games, but no coverage during practice times, when there is a higher injury risk than during formal games or events. Why? Funding for athletic trainers varies by area. For instance, some clinics subsidize the athletic trainer’s services or even pay high schools to provide athletic training services. In other areas, some schools do pay for athletic training services through their general budget, while others pay for these services through the efforts of school booster clubs or athletic budgets. Wisconsin has the majority of high schools and athletic events covered, while many other states have few covered.

What is the benefit of having an athletic trainer at my college, high school, or middle school?

The emergency services that an athletic trainer can provide are invaluable to ensuring the health and safety of sports participation. Whether responding to an emergent cardiac event anywhere on campus (yes, even teachers, parents, referees, and coaches are treated emergently by athletic trainers), or responding to a serious injury requiring urgent evaluation and triaging to the appropriate medical services, athletic trainers provide this invaluable service free of charge, placing parents’ minds at ease. Athletic trainers can also provide rehabilitation services to athletes on-site after school, in addition to providing preventative services like taping and bracing. Having athletic trainers at athletic events ensures a quick emergency response in the event of the unthinkable, reducing emergency response times and AED usage times to a minute or two versus ten minutes or longer for the typical emergency call. Saving time saves lives, heart, and brain, improving morbidity after emergency cardiac events.

How do you become an athletic trainer?

Athletic training education has just recently moved from a four-year bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree program due to the growing amount of health and medical training required in this field. Athletic trainers study anatomy, physiology, kinesiology or biomechanics of movement, assessments for particular injuries and areas of the body, rehabilitation, modalities utilized in assessment and treatment, CPR and AED training, injury prevention, administration and budgeting, and so much more!

How do I know if I would make a good athletic trainer?

Most athletic trainers are active people themselves, and are very interested in how we can prevent injury, improve training and performance, and rehabilitate injury safely and expediently. Athletic trainers love to help people, and become teachers for their patients in how to perform their rehabilitation program and how to prevent re-injury. Athletic trainers are naturally curious, always wanting to learn more about a particular injury or health topic as research is a continuous process. Most athletic trainers love the outdoors, and working in a variety of settings, and are great problem solvers in how to get things done. Many are adrenaline junkies, because you never know what injury you may face as you cover events ranging from hockey games to marathons. Athletic trainers have the ability to be cool, calm, and collected in the face of adversity, and know how to control the injury setting to ensure their patient gets the best possible care in a timely fashion.

Why did you become an athletic trainer AND a doctor of physical therapy?

Since physical therapy was a master’s degree program when I first entered college, I had to pick a major for undergraduate school before I reached the master’s degree program. The choice of pursuing both a sport medicine and athletic training degree was very easy for me, as I had spent many hours observing the athletic trainers who visited our tiny high school several times per week. I admired their ability to know what was wrong by doing a few clinical tests without the need for fancy imaging or tests available only in a hospital setting. Their ability to problem solve was amazing to me, and I definitely wanted to know what they knew, because I had little nagging injuries frequently in high school!

I know that being an athletic trainer first has greatly enhanced my abilities as a doctor of physical therapy on so many levels. From being able to quickly assess a scene and an orthopedic injury in a very short amount of time, to being really great at assisting patients with their functional return to their sport or athletic activity, being an athletic trainer first gave me tools of looking at physically active people that were not emphasized in physical therapy school. Plus, having a background that was solid in orthopedics really made much of physical therapy school easier, since I already had studied many of the same subjects in my undergraduate program.  Also, having the ability to have my hands on patients and assessing and treating patients three years prior to physical therapy school gave me invaluable experience and a leg up on my skills compared to my physical therapy school peers.