What Does an Athletic Trainer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Miguel Co © The Balance 2019 

Athletic trainers are health care workers who diagnose and treat those who have sustained injuries to their muscles and bones. They also teach others how to prevent injuries. Their patients are usually athletes, but others might seek treatment as well. An athletic trainer works under the direction of a physician.

Most athletic trainers have jobs at colleges, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. They also work at hospitals and fitness centers. Professional sports teams employ some athletic trainers.

Although this career is often confused with a fitness trainer, these two occupations have little in common. About 27,800 people work in this occupation in 2016.

Athletic Trainer Duties & Responsibilities

An athletic trainer's exact responsibilities can depend to some extent on the employer, but some common duties include:

  • Deliver athlete medical care and provide first aid techniques.
  • Answer patient question empathetically helpfully.
  • Monitor athletic events and team practices.
  • Perform initial athletic training evaluations.
  • Act as liaison between the patient and physicians, support staff, and medical assistants.
  • Prevent athletic injuries through education and intervention.
  • Assist with maintaining all medical records.

Athletic Trainer Salary

The pay for athletic trainers can depend heavily on their employers, such as whether they work for an elementary school or in professional sports. Overall, the median incomes including all employers are:

  • Median Annual Income: $47,510 ($22.84/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Income: More than $70,750 ($34.01/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Income: Less than $31,010 ($14.91/hour)

Education, Training & Certification

Those looking for a career as an athletic trainer should ideally have a college degree and get licensed.

  • Education: This health career requires a bachelor's degree at a minimum but a master's degree is preferable and, in fact, the majority of athletic trainers do have master's degrees. A bachelor's degree should be earned in a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).
  • Licensure: Most states require that athletic trainers be licensed or registered. Most use an exam administered by the Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC)
  • Certification: Some employers will only hire athletic trainers who have undergone concussion management training and received certification.

Athletic Trainer Skills & Competencies

In addition to education, training, and licensure, you should also possess certain qualities, known as soft skills, to succeed in this field.

  • Listening and verbal communication skills: You must be able to understand what patients and coworkers tell you and to clearly convey information to them.
  • Interpersonal skills: You must be able to read patients' non-verbal cues.
  • Compassion: You'll be dealing with patients who are in pain.
  • Decision-making ability: The ability to make potentially life-altering decisions on the spot is vital.
  • Critical thinking skills: Sound decision-making and problem-solving require the ability to weigh the value of possible solutions before choosing the best available option.
  • Attention to detail: You must be extremely accurate when you're recording information.
  • Nerves of steel: You should be able to maintain emotional control in stressful situations and to effectively manage emergencies.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this as a "bright outlook" occupation due to its excellent job outlook. The agency predicts that employment of athletic trainers will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026, by about 23%.

This is due to a growing national awareness of sports-related injuries and their aftereffects. Some states have actually begun to require high schools to employ athletic trainers. Americans are remaining active well into their older years now as well, and this is also an influence.

Work Environment

Expect to travel frequently if you work for a sports team. When the team goes on the road, so will you. You'll also have to travel to away games even if you work for a community youth team or high school.

This is a physically demanding job. Expect to spend a significant portion of your shift standing. You'll also have to lift patients.

Work Schedule

The majority of athletic trainers work full time. Because athletic events often take place on evenings and weekends, you'll have to work during those times if a school or professional team employs you.

How to Get the Job

GET LICENSED

Use the Licensed Occupations Tool on CareerOneStop to find out what your state's licensing requirements are.

GET CERTIFIED

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers online training and certification, and several private organizations do as well. Many employers mandate concussion, CPR, AED, and first aid certification.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: