What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: AT, Certified Athletic Trainer, Athletic Trainer Certified
Career Overview: Athletic Trainers prevent, diagnose and treat injuries, illnesses and conditions relating to the muscles and bones.
Career Salary Range: $30,300 to $69,140
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 4
Required Minimum Degree/License: Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Medicine
Become an Athletic Trainer
An Athletic Trainer (or “AT”) is a healthcare professional who specializes in treating muscle or bone injuries, illnesses or conditions in clients of all ages. In doing this, they must first evaluate an injury for condition prior to diagnosis. Once this diagnosis has been made, an Athletic Trainer will develop and implement a comprehensive treatment program, often involving rehabilitation exercises and procedures. Before entering this field, learners should educate themselves on all of the pros and cons of being an Athletic Trainer.
These professionals are qualified to provide first aid or emergency care in urgent scenarios, apply protective for preventative devices (braces, tape, bandages, etc.) and performing administrative tasks. These tasks can include filing reports, maintaining client records, scheduling appointments, making phone calls and more. Furthermore, Athletic Trainers work closely with Physicians and other healthcare professionals, referring their services to clients as needed, or consulting with them to ensure that a client is receiving the highest quality care designed for results.
“Working with a patient from the time of injury, all the way through rehabilitation and return to play and work is extremely rewarding,” Micki Cuppett, EdD, ATC, an Athletic Trainer practicing in Florida, said. “The Athletic Trainer is the only healthcare professional that cares for their patients through this entire continuum. This builds very strong bonds between the AT and the patient.”
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Education & Training
To become an Athletic Trainer, learners must obtain a Bachelor’s Degree from a college or university accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). During an undergraduate degree program, learners will receive instruction in biology, anatomy, nutrition, physiology and other science-related courses. They will also be introduced to clinical components, helping them to obtain real working experience.
“Until 2022, either a Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from a CAATE-accredited program is accepted, however 2022 is the last year that programs may admit undergraduate students,”Cuppett explained. “After that, all candidates wishing to become an Athletic Trainer must have a Master’s Degree from a CAATE-accredited Athletic Trainer program to qualify for the Board of Certification Examination.”
Upon completing either degree program until then, and although requirements vary by state, ATs typically must become certified by taking the standard certification exam offered by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer (BOC). Even after passing and beginning to practice in the field, continued education courses are required periodically for a Certified Athletic Trainer to maintain certification.
“After graduating from an accredited AT program, candidates sit for the Board of Certification examination. Once a candidate passes this exam, they can apply for licensure in their respective state,” Cuppett confirmed. “All states use the BOC examination as an entry into the profession.”
“Once certified as an Athletic Trainer, to advance in their career one might choose to go to a post-professional degree program in Athletic Training or might do an AT residency,” Cuppett said. “All ATs, whether they are seeking to advance in their careers for not, must do continuing education.”
So, one way to advance in this career is to enroll and graduate from a Master’s Degree program, or even a doctoral program. Many employers prefer that their Athletic Trainers have received a Master’s Degree as this will soon be a requirement, and therefore this additional schooling with open more avenues for career advancement. Alternatively, other Certified Athletic Trainers choose to climb the ladder into more managerial roles within their respective workplaces by later becoming Athletic Directors or Administrators.
Experience & Skills
To be an effective Athletic Trainer, these professionals must have strong decision-making skills, allowing them to determine the right treatment plans for their individual patients. Additionally, they should be familiar with the inner-workings of the human body to assess and diagnose what is causing a patient pain or discomfort, or simply through providing preventionary care.
“Having a strong understanding of all of the sciences, particularly anatomy and physiology, is extremely important as an Athletic Trainer,” Cuppett said. “Understanding how the body responds to injury and goes through the healing process to be able to provide appropriate care is critical.”
Furthermore, ATs should possess interpersonal skills, making themselves both friendly and approachable to their patients so that they feel comfortable under their care. Along with interpersonal skills, communication skills are needed for Certified Athletic Trainers to build trusting relationships with patients, and to ensure that all of their concerns are being thoroughlly expressed.
“The skills required to complete CAATE-accredited athletic training education programs includes being able to acquire the knowledge, skills and clinical abilities necessary to succeed in this career, along with a broad scope of foundational behaviors of professional practice,” Cuppett explained. “Students complete an extensive clinical learning requirements that embody the clinical integration proficiencies, meaning professional, practice oriented outcomes, so that they will be prepared for the field.”
“Athletic Trainers must enjoy working with people and must have good communication skills,” Cuppett stressed. “They should also enjoy watching athletics as much of the ‘downtime’ as an Athletic Trainer is spent at practices and games.”
Also, successful Athletic Trainers must be kind, caring and compassionate toward the needs of their patients. They must possess a great deal of patience when working with them, ensuring that all treatment procedures are done correctly so that progress can be made. These healthcare professionals should genuinely want to help their patients’ conditions improve, or to efficiently help prevent injuries or other conditions from occuring.
If a patient is experiencing injury or illness, an Athletic Trainer should offer support and guidance, ensuring that positive results are achievable. Also, to help keep a patient on the right track, Athletic Trainers should be detail-oriented in the sense that they keep accurate records of patient progress, noting all adjustments made in the treatment process along the way.
Most Athletic Trainers work full-time schedules, but the hours in which they work may vary depending upon their clients’ needs. Especially when providing services to athletes or sporting teams, ATs will need to work evening and weekend hours, and be outdoors in all types of weather.
“Athletic trainers treat a range of patients and can work in a variety of settings. So, depending on the setting, an Athletic Trainer will usually perform rehabilitation and preventative services prior to a game or practice, and after,” Cuppett explained. “They are also required to document all procedures done in the patient’s health record.”
Cuppett added that, in the everyday life of an Athletic Trainer, again dependant on their employer and work setting, they can provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation services to treat injuries and medical conditions.
Now is a great time to consider beginning the path to becoming an Athletic Trainer! Why? From 2016 to 2026, this career in healthcare is projected to grow 23 percent. This rate is much faster than the average for all occupations! Ultimately, this growth can be attributed to a growing awareness of sports-related injury, causing a greater demand for Athletic Trainers (especially in school settings). Additionally, as older populations remain active due to the health benefits of fitness, more injuries are likely to occur, further causing demand for these professionals.
The majority of Athletic Trainers are employed by educational services, followed by the offices of Physical Therapists, Occupational and Speech Therapists and Audiologists, state, local and private hospitals and fitness and recreational sports centers. Other Athletic Trainers find work through the military, law enforcement agencies, with performing artists or with sports teams. These professionals may also choose to be self-employed. Additionally, the state with the highest employment level for Certified Athletic Trainers is Texas, followed by Pennsylvania, California, New York and Ohio.
“Most Athletic Trainer positions are posted on the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) Career website,” Cuppett advised.
The median annual wage for an Athletic Trainer Certified is $45,630. While the lowest earning 10 percent makes less than $30,300, the highest 10 percent earns more than $69,140 annually. So, this can be quite a lucrative career in healthcare! Additionally, the top paying employers within this field are educational services, state, local and private hospitals, fitness and recreational sports centers and the offices of Physical Therapists, Occupational Speech Therapists and Audiologists. The top paying states for this occupation are the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Connecticut, Nevada and Texas.
“Regarding the median annual wage, many Athletic Trainers can make considerably more with more experience and more education,” Cuppett added.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) is a membership association for Certified Athletic Trainers and others who support the athletic training profession. Through this association, Athletic Trainers are globally recognized as vital practitioners in the delivery and advancement of healthcare. Thus, the association wishes to represent, enage and foster continued growth and development of the field.
- Obtain a strong scientific educational background (take courses in chemistry, anatomy, physiology, biology, etc.
- Observe or shadow an Athletic Trainer, ideally in various settings
- Explore various accredited Athletic Trainer programs
- Apply to those which interest you
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Micki Cuppett, EdD, ATC
Practice: Self-employed (previously University of South Florida in Tampa)
Location: Tampa, FL
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Be sure to go to an accredited program that emphasizes the Athletic Trainer as a healthcare professional and provides the students with opportunities to learn as part of a healthcare team.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“People often confuse athletic training with personal training.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What are the kind of educational opportunities that will best prepare me for a successful career as an Athletic Trainer?”
Why did you choose to become an Athletic Trainer?
“I was an athlete when I was younger and when I got injured playing athletics, the only thing the doctor told me was to sit out. I assumed there had to be a better way to get back to my sport more quickly, and that’s how I discovered athletic training.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Determination and perseverance.”
*Credentialing organizations: Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education