Athletic Trainer Job Overview

What Does a Athletic Trainer Do?

Athletic Trainer Treating Athlete

Christopher Futcher / E+ / Getty Images 

An athletic trainer is a health care worker who diagnoses and treats people who have sustained injuries to their muscles and bones. He or she also teaches them how to prevent injuries. His or her patients are usually athletes, but others may seek treatment as well. An athletic trainer works under the direction of a physician.

Quick Facts

  • 27,800 people work in this occupation (2016).
  • Most athletic trainers have jobs at colleges; elementary, middle and high schools; hospitals; and fitness centers. Professional sports teams employ some.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this as a "bright outlook" occupation due to its excellent job outlook. The agency predicts employment of athletic trainers will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

Roles and Responsibilities

These are some typical job duties employers listed in ads on

  • "Deliver athlete medical care in a positive, caring, and empathetic manner while working to assure all patient questions are answered helpfully."
  • "Provide first aid techniques and triage as necessary."
  • "Monitor athletic events and team practices."
  • "Perform initial athletic training evaluations."
  • "Provide care to a patient population ranging from adolescents to geriatric."
  • "Act as liaison between the patient and physicians and/or their support staff and medical assistant."
  • "Prevent athletic injuries."
  • "Assist with maintaining all medical records."

How to Become an Athletic Trainer

To work as an athletic trainer, you will need to earn at least a bachelor's degree from a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).

The majority of athletic trainers, however, have a master's degree.

The majority of states in the U.S. require athletic trainers to be licensed or registered. Most use an exam administered by the Board of Certification, Inc. (BOC). To find out what your state's licensing requirements are, use the  Licensed Occupations Tool on CareerOneStop.

Some employers will only hire athletic trainers who have undergone concussion management training and received certification. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers online training and certification, and several private organizations do as well. Many employers also mandate CPR, AED, and first aid certification.

Soft Skills That Will Help You Succeed in This Career

In addition to your education, training, and license, you will also need personal qualities, known as soft skills, to succeed in this field. Here are some of them:

  • Listening and Verbal Communication Skills: You must be able to understand what patients and coworkers tell you and convey information to them.
  • Interpersonal Skills: It is essential to be able to "read" patients' non-verbal cues.
  • Compassion: When dealing with patients who are in pain, you must show sympathy.
  • Decision Making: The ability to make potentially life-altering decisions on the spot is vital.
  • Critical Thinking: Sound decision making and problem-solving require the ability to weigh the value of possible solutions before choosing the best one.
  • Attention to Detail: When recording information, you must be extremely accurate.

The Truth About Being an Athletic Trainer

  • This health career requires, at least, a bachelor's degree but a master's degree is preferable. 
  • Although this career is often confused with a fitness trainer, these two occupations have little in common.
  • Expect to travel frequently if you work for a sports team. When the team goes on the road, so will you.
  • Because athletic events often take place on evenings and weekends, you will have to work during those times if a school or professional team employs you.
  • This is a physically demanding job. Expect to spend a significant portion of your shift standing. You will also have to lift patients.

    What Employers Expect From You

    Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on

    • "Compliance and understanding of Big Ten Conference and NCAA rules."
    • "Experience working independently in an unsupervised environment."
    • "Ability to work effectively with a wide range of constituencies in a diverse community."
    • "Ability to effectively manage emergencies relevant to the position."
    • "Maintain emotional control under stress."
    • "Concussion Management Certification preferred"

    Whether This Occupation a Good Fit for You

    Conduct a thorough self-assessment to see if you have the interestspersonality type, and work-related values that make this career a good fit. Athletic trainers should have these traits:

    Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities


    Median Annual Wage


    Minimum Required Education/Training

    Physical Therapist

    Restores mobility, relieves pain, and improves function in patients who were injured$86,850Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree
    Cardiovascular TechnologistUses non-invasive procedures to help doctors diagnose and treat cardiac and vascular problems$55,270Associate Degree
    Exercise PhysiologistHelps patients recover from chronic diseases through exercise$49,090Bachelor's Degree

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited May 26, 2018).