Athletic Trainer: Summary of How to Become an Athletic Trainer

Research the requirements to become an athletic trainer. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in athletic training.

Do I Want to Be an Athletic Trainer?

Athletic trainers are health care professionals who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of medical conditions involving disabilities, impairment and functional limitations. Developing and implementing rehabilitation programs, recognizing and evaluating injuries and providing emergency care or first aid are a few of the duties that these professionals have. They typically collaborate with licensed physicians and other medical professionals and work with patients and clients of all ages.

Athletic trainers can find employment in educational facilities, physicians' offices, fitness and recreational sports centers, in the military or for professional sports teams. Depending on the positions, some work weekends and evenings and may even work outdoors in all types of weather conditions.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree is the minimum education needed to work as an athletic trainer, in addition to becoming certified and meeting state licensing requirements. The following table contains the main qualifications necessary for this career:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard, but a master's degree also common*
Degree Field Athletic training*
Licensure and Certification Certification and licensure required in most states*
Experience No experience necessary, although some employers prefer experience**
Key Skills Strong communication and interpersonal skills, detail-oriented, ability to make quick decisions, medical knowledge*
Additional Requirements CPR certification**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Job postings by employers (August 2012).

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Athletic Training

Athletic trainers must have at least a bachelor's degree in order to pursue employment opportunities in this field. In order to be licensed, it's important for students to choose a degree program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). Coursework typically includes human movement sciences, first aid/emergency care, anatomy and physiology and injury/illness prevention. Students can also expect to take courses in chemistry, physics, psychology and mathematics.

Clinical training is an essential component of this degree program. During this time, students can expect to participate in hands-on clinical education that allows them to practice the knowledge and skills learned while in the classroom. Students will gain experience working with a variety of age groups while working in an athletic training environment under the direct supervision of an experienced athletic trainer.

Success Tip:

  • Use time in school to gain relevant work experience. Although many employers will consider new graduates without previous experience, gaining experience while in school can help students become competitive candidates in the job market after graduation. One way is to take advantage of the program's practical experience to develop clinical skills. Students may also want to consider participating in summer internships. These opportunities can last up to eight weeks and provide information about how to develop treatment programs, conduct patient evaluations, document injuries and communicate with medical staff. By developing clinical skills and building a professional network while still in school, students can make themselves more marketable following graduation.

Step 2: Obtain Certification and Licensure

According to the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA), the majority of states require athletic trainers to be certified and licensed. Becoming certified by the Board of Certification (BOC) requires the completion of a CAATE-accredited program and passing an exam. Although requirements may vary by state, the process of becoming a licensed athletic trainer is similar to the certification process and involves graduating from an accredited program and passing the BOC exam or separate state exam. The BOC exam is multiple-choice and contains 175 questions. Clinical evaluation and diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation, immediate and emergency care and injury/illness prevention are several topics that are covered on the exam.

Step 3: Re-Qualify for Certification

After three years, athletic trainers must re-qualify for certification. The first step involves complying with the terms of the BOC Standards of Professional Practice followed by paying a certification fee. Trainers must also maintain ongoing certifications in emergency cardiac care, including adult and pediatric CPR, airway obstruction, second rescuer CPR, automated external defibrillator and barrier devices. The completion of continuing education courses is also a component of the recertification process.

Step 4: Consider a Master's or Doctoral Degree

NATA reported that 70% of athletic trainers possess a master's or doctoral degree. Although a graduate degree is voluntary, it can be helpful for trainers who work at the collegiate level or those seeking advancement opportunities. Master's degree majors may include exercise and sports medicine, exercise physiology, advanced athletic training and athletic training. Most master's programs can be completed in two years and combine laboratory experiences with clinical internships.

Success Tips:

  • Have a competitive GPA. The process of selecting applicants for master's degree programs related to athletic training is highly competitive. Many master's programs require that students have an undergraduate GPA of 2.75-3.0. Students with a strong GPA will likely have an advantage when applying to master's programs.
  • Get certified as an athletic trainer. Although it isn't a requirement of every master's program related to athletic training, some programs require that applicants be BOC certified prior to applying to the degree program. Students who are previously certified by the BOC will most likely be the strongest candidates when applying to master's programs.

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