How Do I Become an Athletic Trainer?

An athletic trainer requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and certification requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Athletic trainers are not the same as fitness trainers. These professionals work specifically with injury treatment and prevention for people who are physically active in their workplace, such as athletes. A degree in this field is necessary for employment, and most states require certification.

Essential Information

Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals who diagnose and treat injuries caused by stress to the musculoskeletal system. They also teach injury prevention methods to athletes and other people who work in physically-demanding jobs. Qualifications for a career in athletic training include, at minimum, a bachelor's degree and certification, but many athletic trainers have graduate degrees, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These programs include courses in health-related subjects such as physiology and nutrition and also require hands-on training.

Most states require that athletic trainers be certified. Requirements vary, but usually call for completing a degree program sanctioned by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Trainer Education (CAATE) and passing a certification examination. Continuing education courses are usually mandatory.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in athletic training or a related field; graduate degree is common
Other Requirements Certification required in most states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 21%
Median Salary (2015)* $44,670

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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Steps to Becoming an Athletic Trainer

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

In order to qualify for a career in athletic training, one must first complete a bachelor's degree program from an accredited university, such as a Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training. Students are trained to assess and treat injury caused by physical stress and accidents that commonly occur during athletic activity, as well how to teach prevention techniques. Coursework includes emergency response training, first aid, sports medicine, human anatomy and medical conditions.

Step 2: Achieve Certification Status

The next requirement for qualification as an athletic trainer is to obtain certification. All states in the U.S. require certification, except for California, West Virginia and Alaska. The Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC) controls the certification process. In addition to obtaining at least a bachelor's degree, the BOC also requires applicants to pass an intensive certification exam. Upon achieving certification status, the BOC requires athletic trainers to keep taking medical courses to maintain their certification.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Once an athletic trainer has become certified by the BOC, they can obtain work. Many athletic trainers seek work in sports-related fields, working as on-site healthcare personnel. However, athletic trainers can seek work in non-sport settings where a job requires rigorous physical activity. Athletic trainers can also be found in clinical settings or working in outreach programs.

Step 4: Earn a Graduate Degree

In order to stay competitive as a candidate for employment, and because some high-level athletic training positions require it, athletic trainers often seek graduate-level degrees, such as a Master of Science in Athletic Training. These degree programs teach advanced level treatment techniques and involve individual thesis projects. A teaching certificate or license may also be required for some positions within high schools.

Aspiring athletic trainers first complete a bachelor's degree in athletic training. Then, they must become certified, a requirement in almost every state, which requires a completed degree program and an exam. Athletic trainers may also choose to complete a master's degree in their field to help keep themselves competitive in the job market.

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