Throughout the United States, athletic trainers save countless lives each year through emergency care and mostly through prevention. Athletic trainers are licensed healthcare professionals. They are critically important members of a medical team and often work closely with physicians to provide an array of services, including injury prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis and injury rehabilitation.
Their role has increased significantly in recent years and is only expected to rise dramatically in the coming years. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that in the 10-year span from 2014-2024, employment of athletic trainers will grow by 21 percent, higher than the average for all other professions. The bureau says this growth spurt is triggered by an expected increase in demand for athletic trainers and a growing awareness of sport-related injuries at a young age.
In the wellness and prevention space, athletic trainers are perhaps among the most important health care professionals. As demand for their skills rises, as health care shifts its emphasis to prevention, employers will do well to heighten their awareness and recognition of the vital role of athletic trainers.
Historically, college and university athletics departments and professional sports teams have been some of the biggest employers of athletic trainers. Increasingly, however, more middle and high schools as well as youth sports programs across the country, including here in North Texas, are hiring athletic trainers. As the president of the National Athletic Trainers Association once put it, “You wouldn’t drop off your child at a swimming pool without a lifeguard; why drop your child at a youth athletic practice without an athletic trainer?”
For the last several years the NFL has been working with groups like National Athletic Trainers Association to help high schools and youth athletic programs gain more access to the services of athletic trainers.
In 2016, the NFL Foundation helped fund a new pilot grant program to increase the number of high school football players with access to athletic trainers in four states: Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Oregon. The previous year 16 NFL teams committed to providing under-served schools and youth programs with athletic trainers. And in 2014, the NFL, NATA and the Professional Football Athletic Trainers Society teamed up to place more athletic trainers in underserved schools located in NFL markets.
But the employment landscape of athletic trainers is shifting as well. We are seeing more athletic trainers in healthcare facilities as well as in non-traditional settings like law enforcement, the military, manufacturing plants and performing arts troupes.
This employment trend is in some ways emblematic of the evolving nature of the work of athletic trainers. Currently, all athletic trainers must have bachelor’s degrees. In the coming years, athletic trainers will be required to have master’s degrees in order to be certified.
This change reflects a change in several other medical fields, including nursing, where more employers now require bachelor’s degrees, and physical therapy, which has recently raised the criteria for entry to a doctoral degree.
Here at the University of Texas Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation, we decided to stay ahead of the game by phasing out our undergraduate degree in athletic training. All our students in the program now are working toward their master’s degrees.
The change in the athletic training profession reflects another shift in healthcare: an emphasis on wellness and prevention.
This is particularly crucial as healthcare undergoes some of the most radical changes in the current era.
While it remains unclear what healthcare will look like if the Affordable Care Act is repealed and replaced, there’s no question that the emphasis on preventative care will be around for years to come.
That is why we have assembled a team of seasoned faculty members that includes specialists in concussion in young athletes to educate our students. Our students have access to world-class clinical sites. They work with a wide range of people and are actively involved in research projects.
Our program will remain a priority for us because we have seen the future of health care, and athletic trainers will be a big part of it.
Anne R. Bavier is professor and dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at the University of Texas at Arlington.