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How to become a certified athletic trainer

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Athletic Training-3rd Edition by Lorin Cartwright & William Pitney.

To become an AT, you must earn either a bachelor's or entry-level master's degree from a college or university that has an athletic training education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). The athletic training program must offer a major in athletic training. Students enrolled in an undergraduate athletic training program are expected to receive clinical experiences that provide supervised, hands-on experience as well as specified courses related to athletic training. After graduation, a student must pass the BOC certification exam and earn the ATC credential before practicing as a certified AT. Many states have laws that require state licensure in addition to national certification. Practicing without a license or certification could result in legal action, including arrest. The regulations for athletic training vary greatly from state to state. Three common forms of credentials are licensure, certification, and registration.

States that have licensure requirements generally specify who is allowed to practice athletic training and what duties they are allowed to perform. Certification ensures that an individual has achieved basic knowledge and skill to practice athletic training, and registration requires an individual to register with the state before practicing athletic training.

When a student enters an athletic training education program, she must receive formal instruction in specific subjects. The required subject matter is identified by NATA in the Athletic Training Educational Competencies. The fourth edition contains the latest required content that includes the following 12 areas:

1. Risk management and injury prevention

2. Pathology of injury and illnesses

3. Orthopedic clinical examination and diagnosis

4. Medical conditions and disabilities

5. Acute care of injuries and illnesses

6. Therapeutic modalities

7. Conditioning and rehabilitation exercise

8. Pharmacology

9. Psychosocial intervention and referral

10. Nutritional aspects of injuries and illness

11. Health care administration

12. Professional development and responsibility

Each of these subjects is further clarified next.

  • Risk management and injury prevention refers to the principles and strategies for minimizing the risk of injury as well as the risk of legal liability.
  • Pathology of injury and illnesses refers to the cause of an injury or illness and the functional changes that occur in the body as a result.
  • Orthopedic clinical examination and diagnosis refers to understanding and identifying an athlete's musculoskeletal injury and determining his readiness to participate in physical activity. This content area also involves identifying athletic injuries and assessing an athlete's progress during the rehabilitation of an athletic injury.
  • Medical conditions and disabilities include disease processes and the disabilities that result from athletic injuries. They also include disabilities that may exist as preexisting conditions in active people. These issues must be understood before they can be managed.
  • Acute care of injuries and illnesses involves systematically managing acute injury and illness in an emergency situation.
  • Therapeutic modalities refer to methods of facilitating the healing process. ATs must understand the physics behind energy absorption, dissipation, and transmission as energy is applied to the body in the various modalities.
  • Conditioning and rehabilitation exercise refers to preparing an athlete for the demands of a sport or activity by helping her to attain an appropriate level of fitness and function. An AT must understand the principles and techniques of the exercises used.
  • Pharmacology refers to the science of drugs and drug interactions in the body. Although ATs cannot administer medications to athletes, they must understand prescription and nonprescription medications. For example, if an athlete should not be exposed to the sun when taking certain medications, the AT can recommend moving practice to a shaded area or see to it that the athlete wears appropriate clothing.
  • Psychosocial intervention and referral involves understanding both the psychological and sociological aspects of an injury or illness and knowing how to intervene and refer an athlete for appropriate care. From a psychological perspective, students study the variables that affect human behavior. For athletes who have dedicated a tremendous amount of time to their sport, injuries are not only devastating physically but also emotionally. The AT can use what she learns of psychology to understand an athlete's behavior after an injury and to differentiate symptoms of an injury or illness from an emotional problem. Moreover, ATs need to understand how to help athletes through the difficult task of rehabilitation after a serious injury. In addition, the AT must know when and where to make referrals and how to develop alcohol- and drug-abuse prevention programs.
  • Nutritional aspects of injuries and illness include the way that food fulfills the metabolic needs of the body. Athletes have slightly different nutritional demands than those of people who do not exercise. ATs must have a basic understanding of nutrition in order to provide accurate advice and to refer athletes to specialists if advanced nutritional help is needed.
  • Health care administration refers to the management aspects of athletic training and athletics. Many ATs develop policies and procedures for operating various facilities. They also need to understand the legal issues that ATs often face in athletics.
  • Professional development and responsibility refers to an AT's obligation to continually learn and to conduct himself in a professional manner.

Besides the content areas that must be addressed in an athletic training curriculum, students must learn several foundational behaviors of professional practice. The foundational behaviors documented in the 2006 NATA Educational Competencies are fundamental behaviors and values that affect all aspects of patient care (see table 1.1).

After becoming an AT, an individual must recertify every three years by obtaining emergency cardiac care certification and participating in at least 75 hours of continuing education activity. Continuing education can take many forms, but a common method is to attend workshops and conferences that offer educational content.

Table 1.1 Fundamental Concepts in Professional Practice
Fundamental Explanation
Primacy of the patient Putting the care of the patient first and providing the best possible care to the patient
Teamed approach to practice Understanding that the central and peripheral sports medicine teams both play a role in rendering quality care to a patient; understanding the scope of practice in athletic training and having an ability to work with others
Legal practice Following the laws that guide the practice and understanding what constitutes illegal practice
Ethical practice Following the NATA code of ethics at all times and working to follow appropriate practice guidelines as a health care professional
Advancing knowledge Examining evidence from research to guide one's practice as an AT and engaging in continuing education to improve the quality of patient care
Cultural competence Understanding and valuing patients' differences and working responsibly with diverse patient populations
Professionalism Acting in a compassionate manner and behaving with honesty and integrity; promoting the AT profession
More Excerpts From Fundamentals of Athletic Training 3rd Edition