By: Oscar Mallory, ATC
Many times in my career I have heard questions from the general public that usually sound like this: “What exactly do you do?”; “Are you like a Personal Trainer?”; “Are you like a Sports Medicine Doctor?”; ” Are you like a coach?”; “Are you one of those guys that run on the field or court when the athletes get hurt?”
These questions arise a few times a year and many of you are asking this as well; the answers are simple.
First, we need to define a Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC). An ATC is a skilled allied health professional that specializes in prevention, recognition, assessment, and management of athletic injuries. He or she is also trained in therapeutic exercise (rehabilitation) and the use of modalities, such as electrical stimulation, ultrasound, heat, ice, along with various others.¹ The ATC works closely with licensed medical professionals to provide care for various athletic populations such as local middle and high schools, as well as colleges and universities. He or she will occasionally refer athletes to physicians or collaborate with team physicians in order to manage injured athletes.
As for Personal Trainers, their primary job is to guide their client’s through exercise routines that they create for them to reach their fitness goals. They also perform routine fitness assessments to help determine how their clients can move forward and increase physical fitness.² We are not Personal Trainers, although our athletes could benefit from their skills in pre- and post-season exercise programs. After explaining the difference, the reply I commonly get is “Aw man, I was hoping you could show me how to lose some weight!” Even though we have the capability to help people lose weight, we usually focus those efforts on the athletic population.
Although we are often referred to as “Doc”, we are not Sports Medicine Doctors. After residency, doctors interested in sports medicine complete a fellowship program which allows them to further their interests in either general practice in sports medicine or orthopedic surgery. Sports medicine doctors in general practice treat patients with athletic injuries. Depending on the nature of the injury, the doctor will either refer the patient to an orthopedic surgeon for corrective measures or to a physical therapist or athletic trainer for rehabilitation. As athletic trainers, we work under their supervision most of the time. On many occasions, the doctors are present at games, and some practices, to follow up on past patients. This increases their accessibility should a medical emergency arise or if an on the spot diagnosis is needed. If their expertise is not needed at that time, the Athletic Trainer will handle all situations that present themselves.
Coaches and Athletic Trainers have one key thing in common; both want their athletes to be healthy and prepared to play. That is where the similarity ends. Coaches are responsible for training athletes in proper game play and conditioning athletes for strength and endurance. They also organize practices and plan for games. Most coaches are former athletes and they build on their knowledge through seminars or clinics. There are also many coaches that have earned degrees in physical education and have completed course work in coaching and officiating. Though most coaches have first aid training, they do not take care of injuries unless an ATC is not available.
To address the final question, we are those guys and gals who run on the field when people are hurt. However the unseen portion of our job is just as important. We perform concussion testing at each of our home schools, coordinating with the school’s athletic director to ensure all athletes have a baseline test. We are in constant contact with the athletic directors to stay informed of game and practice schedule changes, along with severe weather alerts. Another unseen duty is coordinating with the school’s Principals, Teachers, and Nursing staff to ensure that injured athletes receive any necessary accommodations to aid them throughout the school day. Injuries that may require accommodations can range from joint injuries to concussions. Of course, athletes can also get sick from a number of things, just like everyone else. As ATCs we are on the lookout for other conditions such as blood disorders, heart conditions and asthma, most of which are revealed during pre-participation physicals.
So as you can see, Certified Athletic Trainers are a specialized medical care group, primarily serving the athletic community, with the ability to administer preventative, acute and rehabilitative care. ATCs also use a lot of the same manual testing methods that sports medicine doctors use in the field and the athletic training room. These tests help determine the nature of an injury and help the ATC come up with a plan of action that may involve taping, bracing, rehabilitating, or referring to a physician for diagnosis. The athletic trainers at CHKD are a dedicated group of people that enjoy working with young athletes, as well as the many sporting events we cover in the community.
NATA, board of directors, (2013, January). Terminology. nata.org/athletic training/terminology
Earl, Roger (2004). NCSA’s Essentials of Personal Training. NCSA Certification Commission. pp. 162, 617.