Athletic Trainer: Career Definition, Employment Outlook and Educational Requirements

Explore the career requirements for athletic trainers. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, job growth and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Fitness Trainer degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Athletic Trainer?

Athletic trainers assess and rehabilitate bodily injuries resulting from physical activity. They try to prevent injury by using preventative measures like tape, braces and bandages, but are trained to diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses of muscle and bone. They are also trained in first-aid and emergency care. With injured patients, athletic trainers will develop a treatment plan and oversee the patient's rehabilitation plan. These professionals must also be able to perform administrative duties, such as tracking medical records and writing reports. Athletic trainers work with patients of all ages and skill levels, as well as communicate with physicians and other healthcare workers. The table below outlines the general requirements for a career as an athletic trainer.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum, master's or doctoral degree more common
Education Field of Study Athletic training or related field
Key Skills Administer emergency or follow-up care after athletic injury, apply bandaging/tape and supply medication, decide when an athletic is ready to resume normal activities, develop programs to educate on preventative measures
Licensure/Certification Licensure or certification required in most states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 21%*
Average Salary (2015) $46,940*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Career Definition of an Athletic Trainer?

When an athlete is injured, the athletic trainer administers emergency and follow-up care. You'll perform tasks such as applying bandaging and tape, as well as supplying medication if needed. After an athlete has healed sufficiently, you decide whether or not the athlete can return to the game or resume normal activities. Your employer may also ask you to develop programs designed to educate athletes and coaches on preventive measures. When working as an athletic trainer, you have a number of potential employers, including the military, performing arts, educational institutions, professional sports venues and in some industrial settings.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that approximately 23,450 people were employed as athletic trainers in 2015, with an expected employment increase of 21% over the ten-year period between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Most of the anticipated job growth is expected to occur in colleges, universities and youth leagues as more people become aware of potential injuries, like concussions, that could occur at a young age.

Also, improvements in the detection and prevention of injuries, along with more sophisticated treatments, are expected to increase demand for athletic trainers. Employers with workers who are susceptible to on-the-job injuries, particularly on military bases, are finding that hiring athletic trainers for rehabilitation and prevention may cut down on insurance and workers' compensation costs. Athletic trainers who worked in elementary and secondary schools earned average yearly incomes of $55,420 in May 2015, reported the BLS. Salaries for those who worked in colleges and universities were $47,660 per year for the same period.

What Educational Requirements Must I Attain?

While aspiring athletic trainers must earn a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training or a related field, many have also acquired master's or doctorate degrees. In fact, according to the most recent data available from the National Athletic Trainers' Association in 2009, approximately 70% of athletic trainers attained master's or doctorate degrees (www.nata.org). Higher degrees will enable you to become an educator, researcher or administrator. Programs of study include classroom instruction as well as hundreds of hours of clinical education and experience.

A bachelor's-level athletic training program includes classes such as pharmacology, human physiology, nutrition, evaluation techniques and sport psychology. At the master's degree level, you'll study topics such as advanced clinical evaluation, injury control, advanced biomechanics, rehabilitation techniques and therapeutic modalities. Should you decide to go on to acquire a doctorate degree, be prepared for courses such as kinesiology independent study, epidemiology research methods, quantitative methods and metabolic analysis.

In the vast majority of states, athletic trainers must be licensed. To earn the Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) designation, you must first become a graduate of an accredited training program for athletic trainers, and then successfully pass a comprehensive examination administered by the National Athletic Trainers' Association Board of Certification. You must also satisfy ongoing continuing education requirements to retain your certification.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Exercise physiology is a related field that requires at least a bachelor's degree. Exercise physiologists help patients recover from diseases through fitness and exercise plans. Another related career is occupational therapy, which requires a master's degree. Occupational therapists work with patients recovering from illness or injury to improve skills needed for everyday living. Physical therapists are similar careers as well, but require a doctoral or professional degree. These professionals work with injured or ill patients to manage their pain and increase movement.

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