Athletic Training and Sports Medicine Majors: What's the Difference?

Mar 05, 2020

Learn the differences between athletic training and sports medicine bachelor's degree programs. Explore common courses in each program and find out career options for graduates.

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Athletic Training vs. Sports Medicine

Let's explore the differences between athletic training and sports medicine and get information about bachelor's degree programs in each field.

Bachelor's programs in athletic training and sports medicine both prepare students to work with athletes, but in different ways. Sports medicine programs prepare students for careers where they evaluate and treat sports-related injuries. Graduates of these programs often go on to graduate-level programs in fields like physical therapy, occupational therapy or medicine. On the other hand, athletic training programs prepare students to become certified athletic trainers who create plans to help athletes prevent or rehabilitate from sports-related injuries. They may also provide first aid or emergency care for injuries on the field.

Athletic Training Bachelor's Program

Students looking to major in athletic training often do so within a university's health sciences school. This major often assumes the student will, post-graduation, certify him or herself and become an athletic trainer, specializing in treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention of injuries and, sometimes, illness. Individuals who plan to earn certification will need to complete a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).

The curricula typically present students with a combination of classroom and clinical work. Students may be required to take a combination of core kinesiology and science courses, with athletic training specialized classes as well. Courses include human anatomy, nutrition, physiology, biomechanics, injury evaluation and prevention, exercise testing, therapeutic exercise techniques, and pharmacology.

Students are typically required to participate in lab, practicum and clinical experiences. The clinical experiences require students to complete 800 to 1,000 hours of hands-on training under the supervision of a certified athletic trainer or other approved instructor.

Sports Medicine Bachelor's Program

Those majoring in sports medicine typically do so to train for careers in treating injuries, such as those with the hands, feet, ankles, hips, knees, and spine. These programs are more general in nature and often include a diverse core curriculum of kinesiology, human anatomy, business, and nutrition. Additional course topics may cover physical education and first aid, exercise physiology, strength training principles, biomechanics, and biostatistics.

The program typically includes several internship opportunities for students to gain hands-on training in the field. Graduates of these programs may go on to master's or professional degree programs that prepare them for careers as exercise physiologists, physical therapists, sports psychologists, rehab therapists, chiropractors, or nutritionists.

Athletic training programs prepare students to become athletic trainers, while sports medicine programs typically prepare students for graduate study. Athletic training focuses on preventing and recovering from sport-related injuries and sports medicine focuses on treating sport-related injuries.

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