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The Value of the Secondary School Athletic Trainer

By Brian Robinson on March 10, 2015 hst Print

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Worth, Return on Investment, Metrics, Safety, Value – what do all these words have in common? They all have been used as part of the conversation regarding the importance and need of the secondary school athletic trainer.

A major concern within interscholastic athletics centers on safety, especially in light of the public’s focus on concussions, sudden cardiac death and heat-related deaths, and this heightens the value of athletic trainers in the secondary school setting.

The majority of school administrators probably understand the need for an athletic trainer to coordinate the athletic health care for their student-athletes. Also, many would like to have the services of an athletic trainer if they do not already employ one – either as a school employee or a clinical outreach situation in cooperation with a local hospital or physician’s clinic.

In a recent study conducted by the Korey Stringer Institute and supported by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, 70 percent of the secondary schools in this country employ the services of an athletic trainer. According to the recent NFHS Recommendations and Guidelines for Minimizing Head Impact Exposure and Concussion Risk in Football, “an athletic trainer is a key component in any strategy to minimize injury risk and optimize safety for all participants.”

Due to the current educational economy, it becomes increasingly important for school administrators to show taxpayers that they are getting a substantial return on their investment. Metrics are used to gauge the success of classroom instruction. Standardized testing is gaining public attention as a means to place a value on the adequacy of today’s educational process. In the quest to justify the expense of having a certified athletic trainer on staff, administrators are seeking to understand the value and worth of these health-care professionals.

The concept of value and worth is difficult to grasp if the enterprise is not generating revenue. Whereas “worth” can be considered the monetary value of a service, value is a bit more abstract. Value is viewed by many as the “the extent to which a service’s worth is perceived.”

The value of an athletic trainer within the secondary school setting may differ in the eyes of the principal, school board member, athletic director, teacher, coach, parent and student-athlete. For example, the value of the athletic trainer as perceived by the athletic director may be as simple as keeping safety-related issues off of his or her desk; the value to the school board member may be the reduction in liability risks. 

In the eyes of the principal, an athletic trainer provides positive public relations and the peace of mind that everything reasonable and prudent is being done to minimize the risk for those involved in educational athletics. The coach may see the athletic trainer as invaluable when it comes to making unbiased return-to-play decisions, eliminating daily health-care concerns so that he or she may concentrate on the educational aspects of interscholastic athletics.

In addition to providing peace of mind to the parent, an athletic trainer is also an invaluable resource for accessing the medical community, navigating the health insurance environment and serving as another set of eyes and ears to monitor their child.

The ability of the athletic trainer to help minimize the risk involved with interscholastic athletics is critical even though serious or catastrophic injuries are significantly rare. Also, an immediate response is crucial to preventing sudden death in many cases.

Athletic trainers work together with coaches, administrators, local emergency management personnel and other district staff to ensure that plans are established to minimize the risk associated with interscholastic athletics. The secondary school athletic trainer is in a unique position to monitor health safety procedures, students, facilities, practices and games on a daily basis.

One example of the expertise that the athletic trainer brings to the concept of risk minimization is the development and implementation of venue-specific action plans. The athletic trainer is most qualified school employee to identify unique circumstances that may impact the health and safety of student-athletes. Likewise, the athletic trainer is well-positioned to help facilitate injury prevention strategies while working with coaches, which should enhance student-athlete performance and competition outcomes.

The athletic trainer is well-positioned to consider the many factors involved in the medical referral process, including parental preferences, health insurance limitations and medical specialization, which is immensely helpful to parents. An athletic trainer can facilitate open communication between the student, parents, physicians and coaches, which can be invaluable to parents.

In many schools, the athletic trainer and the school nurse work closely to provide health-care services for the entire student population. In addition, the daily presence of the athletic trainer provides an opportunity for on-site injury rehabilitation and reconditioning, which is paramount to the successful and safe return to play of the student-athlete after an injury.

Since the cost of rehabilitation and reconditioning services can be extensive, having those services provided by the athletic trainer within the school environment can be a tremendous savings. Parents frequently report to athletic trainers about the cost savings that the athletic trainer was able to provide within the school setting. In larger high schools, athletic trainers commonly provide hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars’ worth of injury-care services per year.

The availability of this “in-house” care means that the parent does not have to leave his or her place of employment to transport the student, losing valuable work time. This also aids employers by keeping their employees on the job. When supplied with a cost analysis of the health-care services provided by their athletic trainers, many school administrators are astounded by the savings afforded to parents and the community.

The ability of the athletic trainer to contain costs as it relates to a school district’s liability insurance premiums provides additional value. Athletic trainers create standard prevention protocols, including regular inspections of playing fields and facilities, and monitoring the standard protective equipment worn by athletes in various sports.

Athletic trainers are positioned to influence student success as well. Absenteeism can be minimized by allowing student-athletes to remain in school rather than seeking outside injury-care services. Athletic trainers are increasingly becoming the coordinators of “Return to Learn” protocols for student-athletes who have suffered concussions. Athletic trainers who are available during the school day can treat athletes during lunch periods, study halls and unscheduled time rather that interrupting the educational process when the student must leave school in order to obtain similar care.

It is common for the athletic trainer to be asked to provide life skills education when approached by a particular student-athlete. The athletic trainer’s advice is frequently sought regarding career choices pertaining to the medical field. Parents and students appreciate this unexpected value that the athletic trainer brings to the educational process through his or her experience and expertise.

Athletic trainers can also be valuable to the school environment through their organizational and administrative duties. Athletic trainers deal with the management of medical records, including pre-participation examination, concussion management programs, the monitoring of wrestling hydration testing, HIPPA/FERPA compliance, substance abuse education programs, as well as health and liability insurance – to name a few. This component of their value has positive and direct effects on the school’s administrative staff.

The value of the athletic trainer is multidimensional, including risk minimization, cost containment, medical services, academic success as well as administration and organization. School administrators, school board members and athletic directors as well as parents, students and community members all benefit from the unique value that is provided by an athletic trainer.