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So You Want to Be An Athletic Trainer?

Updated: Oct 7, 2022


What is an athletic trainer/AT/“trainer”? Those are the people who tape ankles and make ice bags right? That‘s right! But that’s not all they are, right? Right again!

I’ve spent the entirety of my career of 9 years in the athletic training profession within the traditional high school setting. That is, up until 3 months ago but more on that later. The highs have been incredibly high and the lows, pretty low. You ever feel like questioning your self-worth, just walk a mile in an AT’s rain and mud covered shoes. Nothing like going to grad school and being hyped up about your chosen career path by all your professors only to graduate and almost immediately start getting the question from parents, ”Now did you have to go to school for this?” Excuse me, WHAT?!?

The changes that the athletic training profession has seen over the past 70+ years can almost make it unrecognizable to our forefathers, but in the best of ways. Long gone are the days when an assistant football coach who obtained first-aid and CPR certification served as the school athletic trainer. Most recently, the seven year transition period was completed for all athletic training programs to convert from a minimum education level of a bachelor’s degree to an entry-level master’s degree. Starting just this Fall 2022 semester, college students enrolling into an athletic training program will be required to obtain their Master of Athletic Training (MAT) degree in order to sit for the BOC exam/state licensure exam.

The skill set has continued to expand as well. With the conversion from a bachelor’s to a master‘s degree, new skills are being added to the curricula. In a few years time, the public could see athletic trainers administer injections, applying sutures (stitches), and perform adjustments referred to as Grade 5 joint mobilizations (think chiropractic adjustment). All of these skills can potentially be added to entry level education for an athletic training student as part of their MAT program.

So where does this leave us as a profession? Is it cementing our spot in healthcare as a legitimate healthcare provider? Do athletic trainers need to worry about our role in healthcare or that we have to expand our offerings right out of college? Some may speculate this to be the case given the increase in the minimum education level. Our professional leadership expressed the education requirement change was needed in order for athletic training to stay relevant with other practitioners in the orthopedic field, namely, occupational therapists and physical therapists.

I personally feel that educational level doesn’t matter as much as some might lead you to believe. Now, obviously, I don’t want my primary physician to have the equvalent of an Associate’s degree level of education. The point I’m making is that a minimum educational requirement is just that, the minimal requirement! The BOC exam that ATs take in order to be nationally certified is meant to test the testees on entry-level education in the field of athletic training. Athletic training is not unique in this sense. All professions that require the passing of an exam, design the exam to test the individual on what is determined to be a minimum level of education/knowledge in order to practice.

The magic happens with experience! Will you be a “good” AT or a ”bad” AT? Only hands-on experience will determine that. ATs are also not immune to the dreaded ’imposter syndrome’. I know I’ve struggled with this myself. The feeling that you are a fraud and only one small moment in time, on any given day, from being found out as the ’imposter’ that you are!

I’ve heard it said, and generally get the sense that, ATs are sort of a ”jack of all trades” in the sports medicine field. I’ve regularly used the expression when referring to myself as an AT. This figure of speech may be meant as a compliment but that’s not the full saying, not even close! I originally heard this saying as ”A jack of all trades, but a master of none”. Now this expanded version has always made me feel that it was meant as a slight toward someone who knows a little about a lot of things but doesn’t know a lot about any particular thing. That was my belief until very recently when I heard yet another, even longer, version that sends almost a complete opposite meassge. The even longer version goes: ”A Jack of all trades is a master of none but oftentimes better than a master of one”. I really like that version! It gives me a sense of pride to be considered a ”jack of all trades”.

So back to my 9 years as an athletic trainer in the traditional high school athletics setting. The settings that an athletic trainer can work in have expanded over time. Historically, an AT would work at the high school, college or professional sports level. Now ATs can work in the military, peforming arts, hospitals, outpatient orthopedic clinics, and industrial (factories). Arguably, the most recent emerging setting for ATs is entrepreneurship, or owning your own business. Naturally, I decided to go for this setting! In a very real sense, I feel like most people who decide to start their own business in that it’s a huge leap of faith. More like a leap off a cliff and I’m in the middle of a free fall. I haven’t even pulled the rip cord to know whether my parachute will open or…let’s not go there. It’s terrifying, but also exhilerating! I’m enjoying a set schedule that I have control of. I’m enjoying the evenings with my family instead of standing on a sideline during these increasingly chilly Fall nights! But I also miss the kids terribly! Those student athletes that pour so much of themselves into the sports they love. Seeing their success and being a shoulder to lean on during their failures.

I’m facing those fears that every small business owner faces when the schedule isn’t filling up and the bills are still rolling in. But I’m enjoying every moment of growth that is occurring daily! I would’ve never thought that I would own a business when I set out to become an AT. Being an athletic trainer can look different depending on what setting you choose. I know one thing is for sure, no matter what setting I’m in, I will always be proud to call myself an AT! So you want to be an athletic trainer? Well you’re in for quite a fun, wild, crazy, exciting, scary, but most of all, satisfying experience!


My hope for this blog is to mix some of my personal experiences with informative content about current best practices in the orthopedic/sports medicine field. Please check out my service offerings and more about me under the “about“ tab on my website.

-You can invest in your health care today, or on your sick care tomorrow-


Yours in good health,


Aaron Goodrich, AT, MT, CES

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