Typically, associate programs in sports medicine feature an introduction of the human body plus foundational courses in sports and fitness activities. Bachelor's degree programs in athletic training usually provide intensive coursework and clinical experience in sports medicine. Many master's degree programs are geared toward those who are already athletic trainers and want to advance in the field, or towards those who want to become teachers or researchers. Most of these programs include focused study in body movement, exercise science and sports injuries.
Studies at every level typically involve a combination of classes, lab exercises and clinical internships. Professional credentials are available in this field to those who meet specific requirements. State-mandated licensing also applies to this profession. Typical prerequisites for admission include a high school diploma or equivalent for associate and bachelor's program. A bachelor's degree and/or certification as an athletic trainer is often required for a master's program.
Associate's Degree Program in Sports Medicine
Offered primarily by community colleges, an associate degree program in sports training with a concentration in sports medicine offers entry-level training for those interested in fitness-related careers. Programs can also be used as a foundation for individuals interested in becoming athletic trainers, exercise physiologists or physical therapists. Often, associate programs can be used to fulfill some of the lower-level coursework needed in athletic training bachelor's degree programs. However, graduates of associate programs can often find entry-level paraprofessional jobs in sports and fitness.
Sports or athletic training associate degree programs offer a glimpse into the physiological aspects the human body in relation to exercise and fitness training. Several programs also include CPR training and require a clinical internship. Course topics can include:
- Sports injury management
- Introduction and advanced sports medicine and athletic training
- Health and safety
- Sports and nutrition
- Introduction to sports massage
Bachelor's Degree Program in Athletic Training
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association as allied health workers because they help to prevent and treat sports related injuries (www.bls.gov). Students in these programs have coursework and clinical training in areas such as human anatomy, exercise science and sports to learn about body movements and sports injury prevention techniques.
Athletic training programs require students to complete a significant amount of clinical work experience in addition to core coursework and general education. Some course topics may be:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Sports in our society
- Care and prevention of injury
- Athletic movement
- Nutrition for performance
Master's Degree Program in Sports Health Science
While there are many master's degree programs in athletic training, there are education programs at this level that deal exclusively with sports injury and sports medicine. Some schools offer these programs in conjunction with a master's degree program in chiropractic medicine. Alternatively, those who hold a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field and want to become athletic trainers can seek out what's called an entry-level master's degree program in athletic training that often provides clinical work in sports injuries.
A typical graduate-level sports health science or sports medicine program includes classroom teaching along with clinical and lab experience and internship opportunities. Course topics may include:
- The mind of an athlete
- Principles of biomechanics
- Sports science and rehabilitation
- Physical therapy principles
- Emergency care in sports
Popular Career Options
Those with an associate degree in sports and fitness may find jobs in areas such as coaching, personal training and fitness instructing. An associate degree program can also be used as a foundation for further study into health-related professions such as:
- Physical therapist
- Physical therapy assistant
- Physician assistant
- Athletic trainer
A graduate level program in sports medicine or sports science may advance the career of a certified athletic trainer. Other career options may include:
- Sports medicine instructor
- Sports injury and rehabilitation researcher
- Exercise physiologist
- Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation specialist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The BLS predicted job growth for athletic trainers to rise by 19% from 2018 to 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, the 2018 median annual salary for athletic trainers was $47,510.
Many associate's degree programs in this field are designed to transfer into bachelor's degree programs. Licensed and certified athletic trainers are typically required to have at least a bachelor's degree in athletic training.
Most states license athletic trainers, and while licensing requirements may vary by state they generally require graduation from an accredited education program and passage of a rigorous exam. Many schools offer master's degree and Ph.D. programs in athletic training for those who want to advance in the field. The National Athletic Trainers Association is a professional organization that provides professional certification along with continuing education opportunities, to athletic trainers and sports fitness professionals ( www.nata.org).
The American College of Sports Medicine has credential programs in a number of exercise and sports related professions, including Registered Clinical Exercise Physiologist, which is designed for someone who already holds a master's degree in sports medicine or related area (www.acsm.org).
Sports injury degree programs are available at associate's, bachelor's and master's levels. Graduates of these programs often go on to careers as physical therapists and exercise physiologists.