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Athletic Trainer Requirements Bulked Up As Profession Expands Into New Areas

Mercy athletic trainer Zane Brugenhemke works on OKC Energy FC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi Tuesday in Edmond.
Emmy Verdin
Journal Record
Mercy athletic trainer Zane Brugenhemke works on OKC Energy FC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi Tuesday in Edmond.

Professional athletic trainers will be required to obtain at least a Master’s Degree in order to sit for the National Athletic Trainers Association exam. Sarah Terry-Cobo writes in the Journal Record that the new, more stringent requirements will go into place for an industry that is expanding beyond sports teams and into the world of the military and industrial workplaces.


Jacob McCleland: It’s the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland, and  my guest is Journal Record senior reporter Sarah Terry-Cobo. Hi Sarah, thanks for joining us.

Sarah Terry-Cobo: Hi Jacob, thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

McCleland: You wrote last week in the Journal Record that there are now more requirements to become an athletic trainer. Now before we jump into the requirement and what that means to the profession, what exactly do athletic trainers do? I often think of the people who help the Thunder stretch out before games, but I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that.

Terry-Cobo: Jacob, that’s definitely part of it. So, an athletic trainer works to help prevent injuries, like stretching out an athlete before a game or practice, as well as treat them and administer first aid if they do get injured. But keep in mind, prevention of injuries is more than just warming up muscles; it’s also about eating right, being well-hydrated, getting enough sleep, and they work with athletes on all of those things.

McCleland: Currently, what education is required for athletic trainers?

Terry-Cobo:    Right now, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required to take the national certification test. But degree programs can vary.

McCleland: What will be the new education requirements for this job?

Terry-Cobo: Right. So starting in 2022, in order to sit for the National Athletic Trainers Association exam, you must have a master’s degree from a program that’s in good standing. And a couple years before that, by 2020 all educational institutions must have their curriculum in place for that masters-level program.

McCleland:  Why are they upping the requirements to become an athletic trainer?

Terry-Cobo:  Right. So it is really an expanding field and it will allow those aspiring professionals to get more experience in a residency-type setting, similar to what doctors and nurses do in their semester-long rotations. Those in the industry say it would give them more stature and respect if they’re seen as health care providers.

McCleland:  What do professional athletic trainers who are already in the field, what do they think about these increased requirements?

Terry-Cobo: The ones I spoke with are in favor of it, because there is a sense there will be more respect for the profession. And those who already hold the national certification won’t have to go back and get a master’s degree. They are essentially grandfathered in. 

McCleland: One of the things you point out in your article that I thought was really interesting was that only 43 percent of Oklahoma high schools have an athletic trainer who works for them, either on a contract basis, or working full-time. So, I mean, if you’re looking at it beyond just the professional sports teams, but to all the schools with athletic programs, is there really a shortage of people doing these jobs?

Terry-Cobo: That really seems to be the case and that is what Mercy athletic trainer Zane Brugenhemke says. He works for the hospital system there.

McCleland: Are there concerns that is will be more difficult for schools to afford athletic trainers when they have the higher educational requirements?

Terry-Cobo: Right, so an athletic trainer is a paid staff position and generally a starting salary, in whatever industry, is around $50,000 a year, which is likely to be a hard sell for a school that is struggling to buy copy paper.  But Zane over at Mercy says there is a solution to this. The NFL actually has provided grants to a handful of Oklahoma schools that allows Mercy to put its own athletic trainers in the schools. So the athletes get the protection of an athletic trainer and schools don’t have to foot the bill. He says other hospital systems could follow the same path that Mercy did with the NFL grant program.

McCleland: So sports teams obviously use athletic trainers. What are some other areas of growth for this profession?

Terry-Cobo: I thought this was pretty fascinating as well. The military has actually been using athletic trainers for the better part of a decade. But you’re also seeing this in industrial-sector businesses, too. So a trainer goes into a manufacturing plant for example, helps adjust the work stations so the equipment is the right height for each worker, they do stretches to help prevent repetitive strain or overuse injuries. And they are also there to give first aid if someone gets hurt or help them exercises if they are returning to work from an injury.

McCleland: We’ve been talking with Sarah Terry-Cobo. She’s the senior reporter at the Journal Record newspaper. Thank you so much for your time…

Terry-Cobo: Absolutely, it’s my pleasure.

McCleland: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can find this conversation at kgou.org. You can also follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter, @journalrecord and @kgounews.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

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