Athletic Training: The New Generation

by Bethany Wagner

Around the nation, a force of health care professionals works diligently, often in the background, on the soccer field, in sports locker rooms, in corporate offices, in factories. Armed with vast interdisciplinary knowledge of medicine and modern health care, they identify possible injuries before they happen, catching even the smallest risk factors affecting high school football players, college volleyball players, professional golfers, businesspeople, and more. In the case of injury, they provide treatment and rehabilitation, working with patients toward healing from beginning to end.

These are athletic trainers. Once stereotyped as assistants who taped ankles and refilled water coolers, today they evaluate athletes’ preseason physical conditions, ensure the safety of training routines, monitor the quality of facilities and equipment, and eliminate risks stemming from environmental factors. “Prevention is the focus of athletic trainers,” said Christopher Schmidt, Ph.D., director of APU’s new Master of Science in Athletic Training program. “While other health care professionals provide care in clinics or hospitals after injury or illness occurs, athletic trainers enter the lives of their clients on a daily basis, standing on the sidelines during practices and games, ready for action.”

Outside the realm of sports, athletic trainers serve and protect people in countless industries, including musicians, dancers, police officers, military personnel, businesspeople, and factory workers. “An athletic trainer might observe laborers who sit in the same position eight hours a day, lifting pieces of equipment and straining their backs,” said Schmidt. “The athletic trainer then analyzes how to adjust the environment so the workers remain safe and thrive.”

Yet, even with these preventive measures, a muscle may tear, an ankle twists, a player falls to the ground. Athletic trainers skillfully diagnose and treat injury to almost any part of the body, drawing on a thorough understanding of internal medicine, nutrition, concussion studies, neurology, orthopedics, psychiatry, rheumatology, and physical therapy.

While the profession required a bachelor’s degree in the past, the high demands of athletic trainers now reach into the graduate realm, heralding a major shift toward more rigorous education, with hundreds of schools slated to transition to master’s programs in the next seven years. APU leads the charge, beginning preparations for this change in 2008 and welcoming 12 students as the first graduate cohort in July 2015. The Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) accepted APU’s substantitive degree change request and also awarded 10 years of continuing accreditation, recognizing the university’s commitment to the advancement athletic training education and dedication to the preparation of qualified athletic training professionals. “With health care evolving and sports injury rates rising, we see a greater need for quality care and holistic understanding at the preventive level,” said Schmidt. “APU already stood as a leader in sports and health care education; now other institutions making the same curriculum changes look to us as an example for athletic training graduate education.”

Today, APU athletic training alumni from the past three decades serve high school and college sports teams, as well as in hospitals and on Army bases. The new program builds on this track record of success, but with deeper coursework and expanded opportunities for clinical education and research. “Students gain real-world experience during clinical rotations at local high schools, colleges, physical therapy clinics, and physician offices, caring for patients of myriad ages and backgrounds,” said Schmidt. They study, experiment, and conduct research in a 1,300-square-foot lab stocked with all the equipment and tools of a modern athletic training facility, creating a flexible classroom and lab environment. In research teams headed by faculty members, students explore current health care questions, conduct original research, and write for publication.

Raising the demand for quality athletic trainers, injuries—particularly concussions—and their possible long-term consequences stand as one of the most pressing issues in sports. In an effort to better understand sports-related head injuries, APU joins 20 other schools in the most comprehensive concussion study to date, spearheaded by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U.S. Department of Defense. Starting in August 2015, the school’s sports medicine staff recorded student-athletes’ preseason physical, mental, and emotional health, and, in the event of head injury, will conduct postconcussion evaluations at prescribed time points. “APU athletic trainers stood ahead of the curve in concussion management, already using procedures to care for students that nearly matched the study’s protocol,” said April (Reed ’95) Hoy, associate athletics director and director of sports medicine and wellness for APU’s 19-sport program. “The results will help treat and prevent concussions for all, giving athletic trainers valuable knowledge to add to their skill set.”

This comprehensive preparation allows students to leverage APU’s signature blend of forward thinking and innovation to serve people in need throughout the world and distinguishes them among their peers. In May 2017, APU’s first graduate cohort of Master of Science in Athletic Training students will receive their degrees, ready to protect athletes, performers, and workers in all industries, adding to an ongoing legacy of quality health care education. “The servant-oriented mission of the athletic trainer aligns well with the mission of an evangelical, Christ-centered university,” said Schmidt. “Athletic trainers safeguard others, coming alongside and supporting them through suffering with empathy.”

Bethany Wagner ’14 is a freelance writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon.

Originally published in the Spring '16 issue of APU Life. Download the PDF or view all issues.