Requiring an Athletic Trainer On Site

April 22, 2019


The topic of whether high schools should be required to employ a full-time athletic trainer—and how to fund it—is an issue that's been discussed by athletic directors, athletic trainers and athletic administrators for many years now.

A two-part article on the Portland Tribute website (part one here and part two here) discussed this subject in relation to Oregon schools, and it raised many good points as to why this is such a difficult issue to solve. It also includes options that officials in Oregon have discussed in finding a way to fund having an arthletic trainer employed at every school.

According to the article, a recent study showed that out of the 235 public high schools in Oregon, fewer than half have at least one athletic trainer, and that about 28 percent of Oregon students attend schools that do not have an athletic trainer.

The study also concluded that high schools with athletic trainers are much more likely to identify and treat concussions than schools that don't have an ATC.

And for schools that pay for an athletic trainer to be on site in a very limited role, on a subcontract basis, the ability to provide adequate coverage is compromised because of a lack of time to meet demand.

That's backed up by Shelly Jones, athletic trainer employed at Aloha High School in Oregon, who said even in her situation, athletes at the school can occassionally wait as long as two-three hours to see her for treatment after school classes are over. "We're seeing kid after kid after kid. We're so busy," she said in the article. "And we have other athletes who say 'I saw the line, so I didn't come in.'"

Administrators in Oregon have proposed ideas to consider in seeking a way to provide adequate on-site athletic training . Mic Koester, an orthopedic doctor and member of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the Oregon Student Activities Association, has worked with others to propose legislation requiring all school systems in the state to have at least one full-time athletic trainer employed to work with the schools' athletes.

One option mentioned in the article is that funding for an athletic trainer would be included in the state's school budget, and “athletic trainers would work full-time, attend all practices and games, as well as provide treatment and rehabilitation from injuries.”

Another option is a "co-op" model in which smaller schools would team up to contract an athletic trainer to serve these schools, splitting time between each of the athletic department. It's modeled after a work that Dr. Derek Earl an orthopedic doctor in Hermiston (Ore.), does in serving many rural schools in the area, including Griswold High, Umatilla High, Echo High School, and Irrigon Junior/Senior High School.

The duties that Dr. Earl performs varies based the school's needs: For some schools he works at their home games and competitions; for other schools, he is used only for treating concussions.

"Dr. Earl's model is an excellent example of the type of system that we hope to replicate throughout that portion of eastern and frontier Oregon," David Kracke, a personal injury lawyer and Oregon's brain injury advocate coordinator, said in the article.

Kracke also said in the article that it might be possible to find medical doctors who would volunteer to provide athletic training type services at the games of some schools.

Sam Johnson, an associate professor the Oregon State University School of Public Health and Human Sciences and president of the Oregon Athletic Trainers' Society, is working with others at the university to complete a study analyzing the cost savings associated with having athletic trainers in Oregon schools. For example, “student athletes with access to an athletic trainer can avoid going to physical therapy, getting X-rays and other care, and reduce trips to the emergency room for treatment and care that athletic trainers provide to students without charging them,” the article states.

And it also keeps the students in school from having to miss important school time to go to off-site medical appointments. Futhermore, having an athletic trainer on staff potentially helps more students than those who play sports— in areas such as mental well-being, suicide prevention, anti-bullying and emergency action planning.

"You start seeing other benefits of having an athletic trainer that don't always show up on paper," Johnson said in the article. "We need to do a better job of informing people of what we do."

“We know enough about the benefits of athletic trainers," Koester said. "If we're putting money into athletic facilities, uniforms, coaches, we can find the amount of money to help establish a program to help keep kids safe."

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