Guest Post by:

Lindsey Clarke, MS, ATC, CMT
Athletic Trainer
MUSC Sports Medicine

I’m sure you’ve heard the sayings “no rest for the weary” or “Jack of all trades”.  I’m willing to bet someone was referring to an Athletic Trainer when they said that.  Attempting to describe a day in the life of a Certified Athletic Trainer would be like an astronaut describing what it’s like being in space…you just don’t know until you’ve done it for yourself! Okay, so that may be a bit dramatic, but the demands of this position are very unique, and unlike most jobs out there.  Certified Athletic Trainers(ATCs) are highly qualified health professionals who are trained in preventing, recognizing, managing and rehabilitating injuries that result from physical activity and sports.  They are part of a team of sports medicine specialists, that if when injured, help get you back on your feet and back in action as soon as possible…all while pulling some pretty unorthodox hours.

While they’ve been behind the scenes and on the sidelines long before, the American Medical Association has recognized athletic training as an allied health care profession since 1990.  As an important part of a comprehensive healthcare team, the certified athletic trainer works under the direction of a physician and in cooperation with other healthcare professionals, athletics administrators, coaches and parents.  ATCs work in a variety of different professional settings, including:

Professional and collegiate sports                       Sports medicine clinics
Secondary and intermediate schools                   Occupational settings
Performing arts                                                          Law enforcement and military
Hospital emergency rooms and rehab clinics        Physician offices

If an athletic trainer works with a sports team, their hours will ebb and flow with the offseason, preseason, and regular season. Trainers working in hospitals and clinics may have a more regular schedule and often conduct outreach work at various locations.  While there are various settings, the basic duties are common across the board.

Prevention of Injury  Injury prevention is one of the most important roles an ATC has in dealing with any athlete. While managing injuries once they’ve happened is our bread and butter, pre-participation screenings, development of strengthening programs, education of sport specific equipment, and hydration and nutrition counseling are just a few examples of ways to help avoid injury.

Recognition, Evaluation, and Assessment  Athletic trainers must possess the skill to recognize, evaluate, and assess athletic injuries in order to care for them properly, and apply those skills to the field.

Immediate Care  In the event of an injury, it is imperative that the athlete can be cared for immediately and appropriately. It is crucial that in emergency situations, athletic trainers act without hesitation in responding with knowledge and control.

Treatment, Rehabilitation, and Reconditioning  Providing daily treatment helps manage any niggling aches, pains, or minor injuries. Rehabilitation helps minimize injury time and allows the injury to fully heal. Reconditioning, or sports-specific training, is very important to regain the optimal physical condition of the athlete and helps minimize chances of re-injury upon return to play.

Organization and Administration  There is much more to being an athletic trainer than simply caring for athletes.  It is important for the athletic trainer to be prepared for any situation.  This includes developing emergency action plans, policies and procedures for safe participation, facility operations, and maintaining compliance with all safety and sanitation standards.  In addition to all this, accurate athlete/patient files and injury reports must be kept up to date, and regular communication with coaches and physicians made on a daily basis.  ATCs often handle insurance as well as being responsible for staying on top of budgetary issues when making supply orders.  In smaller organizations, planning travel and accommodations can fall to the athletic trainer as well.

Professional Development and Responsibility As in every other profession, athletic trainers hold the responsibility of playing a part in the professional development for the athletic trainers while obeying and adhering to all laws and guidelines that impact the athletic training profession.  This includes doing the necessary work to maintain certification and licensure, and helping advance the athletic training profession. According to the Department of Labor, 46 states require trainers to be licensed or registered.  It is important for athletic trainers, now more than ever, to education the public on the importance of athletic trainers and our profession.

 Dependent on the setting, certain responsibilities and hours may vary, but the one common denominator is that an athletic trainer's day may change from day to day and even hour to hour. Flexibility (to both schedule and personalities), empathy, patience, creativity, strong decision-making skills, and being even-tempered are all qualities that not only a good, but effective athletic trainer make. Most importantly, you must be a good listener.  Possessing the ability to react to a situation all while maintaining a strong controlled attitude is only half the battle…you must be able to connect with your athlete and gain their trust.  Athletic trainers are hard-working and passionate in caring for and helping their athletes.  They’re usually the first to arrive and the last to leave all just to be repeated the next day.  Sometimes working upwards of 60+ hours a week, athletic trainers make tough decisions in high-pressure situations on a daily basis.  Our athletes’ lives are quite literally in our hands…caring not only physically, but emotionally for them can be quite stressful.  So, the next time you see your trainer eating their yoghurt with a tongue depressor because they forgot their spoon, reading through their home-study continuing education course all while filling one of many water coolers over their lunch break, just give a little thanks for these un-sung heroes that keep these bodies in motion moving.