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What is an athletic trainer?

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Athletic Training 4th Edition With Web Resource by Lorin Cartwright & Kimberly Peer.

Athletic training is a profession dedicated to maintaining and improving the health and well-being of the physically active population and preventing athletic-related injuries and illnesses. Athletic trainers are defined as follows:

Health care professionals who render service or treatment, under the direction of or in collaboration with a physician, in accordance with their education and training and the states' statutes, rules and regulations. As a part of the health care team, services provided by ATs include injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergent care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. (National Athletic Trainers' Association n.d.a)


The credential for the certified athletic trainer (AT) is the ATC. The credential ATC after one's name is evidence that the person has the appropriate education and training to work as a certified AT. Although people have provided health care to injured athletes for centuries, it was not until 1991 that the American Medical Association formally recognized athletic training as an allied health care profession. The National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), which is responsible for setting professional standards, was formed in 1950. The NATA Board of Certification (BOC) is responsible for conducting the national certification process.


In 2015, the BOC studied and established the various roles of the AT, which include the following practice domains (Henderson 2015):

  • Injury and illness prevention and wellness protection. The prevention of athletic injuries and illness includes educating athletes and their families about potential risks of athletic participation and how to reduce them. Some items involved in managing the risk include preparticipation physical exams; proper strength and conditioning programs; proper equipment and equipment fitting; taping, bandaging, and bracing; and good nutrition.
  • Examination, assessment, and diagnosis. The AT must be able to recognize the type of injury and its severity so that she will know how to treat it or when to refer the athlete to a physician.
  • Immediate and emergency care. When an athlete is injured, the AT must be ready to respond with a standard of care that is effective for the emergency presented. The AT must be able to communicate with various providers and family under stressful conditions. He must maintain first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification through such organizations as the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council.
  • Therapeutic intervention. After initial treatment, the AT directs the athlete through exercises and treatments to help her return to normal function. This is called rehabilitation. Reconditioning is getting the athlete back into physical shape for athletic participation.
  • Health care administration and professional responsibility. ATs are often responsible for managing state-of-the-art facilities, so they must have the administrative skills necessary for preparing work and purchase orders and scheduling staff. Additionally, injuries, treatments, and rehabilitation progress must be documented accurately.
  • Leadership, strategic planning, goal setting, and human resources. “The athletic training program will rely on skills in these areas to stay on the cutting edge of providing the best professional services on behalf of their athletes”(Henderson 2015).Technology changes rapidly, and ATs must continue their education to remain current with the latest developments in health care. To do so, they attend seminars, read journals, write articles and books, and conduct research. ATs must conduct themselves professionally and with integrity. No one likes receiving medical treatment from someone who is unprofessional. A professional understands that she cannot accomplish everything by herself, so she works as part of a sports medicine team.