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Intersection of athletic training and public health

This is an excerpt from Athletic Training and Therapy With HKPropel Access by Leamor Kahanov & Ellen K. Payne.

By Samuel Johnson, PhD, ATC, CSCS

Athletic trainers are health care professionals who provide care for physically active people. Historically, athletic trainers worked with athletes on sports teams. However, as the profession has grown, so have the settings athletic trainers work in. For example, athletic trainers now work in the performing arts, public safety, the military, and industry, just to name a few settings. Part of the reason for this is the wide-ranging education athletic trainers receive, specifically within the five domains of athletic training:5

  1. Injury and illness prevention and wellness promotion
  2. Examination, assessment, and diagnosis
  3. Immediate and emergency care
  4. Therapeutic intervention
  5. Health care administration and professional responsibility

Athletic trainers are well aligned with the medical approach, particularly as it relates to providing care to patients who are active. In most jurisdictions, athletic trainers are required to work in collaboration with or under the supervision of a physician; thus, they naturally become advocates for interprofessional practice.

Unlike many other medical professionals, athletic trainers typically provide services beyond the confines of a traditional medical clinic. Athletic trainers are often on site where the patients are, such as at a school, fire station, or warehouse. This means patients can seek care from the athletic trainer at the location of their activity or work, allowing for immediate care for injuries and illnesses. When needed, the athletic trainer refers the patient to other professionals.

The athletic trainer’s availability on site at the school or workplace also gives her the opportunity to develop and implement injury and illness prevention programs. In fact, athletic trainers working in high schools report that preventive services are the primary reason patients seek their services, accounting for nearly 50% of all services provided.6

Additionally, in many settings, the athletic trainer is responsible for the health of an entire group or population. From a public health perspective, a population is not just based on a geographic area. Here are just a few examples of populations athletic trainers serve:

  • All the athletes on a sports team
  • All the dancers in a ballet company
  • All the student-athletes in a school
  • All the firefighters in a fire department or district
  • All the employees in a distribution warehouse
  • All the soldiers in a battalion

Because athletic trainers work at both the patient and population levels, additional opportunities exist for more effective prevention. As this chapter later discusses, health and healthy choices are influenced by many factors. Although athletic trainers cannot directly influence all of these, they have the opportunity to affect many of them. Their wide-ranging education and training allow athletic trainers to provide both initial and follow-up care and referral as needed. By engaging the patient and other stakeholders, such as coaches, school or work administrators, teammates, coworkers, family members, and other health care professionals, the athletic trainer is well suited to promote the health of the population.

The relationship between caring for an individual patient and also an entire population is somewhat unique for a health care provider. This highlights the intersection of athletic training and public health. At its core, public health emphasizes “prevention over treatment, populations over individuals, and engagement at multiple levels.”7 The role of the athletic trainer aligns with public health and medical approaches because athletic training encompasses both prevention and treatment and the health of both the patient and the population. Athletic trainers also engage stakeholders on multiple levels. This intersection between athletic training and public health appears to be a natural fit, but in order to be successful, you need to be acquainted with the public health approach to prevention.

More Excerpts From Athletic Training and Therapy With HKPropel Access