My Solution: Lack of Athletic Trainers in Secondary Schools

I will not claim to be an unbiased source.  I will not claim to know everything there is to know about insurance.  But one thing I know is very clear:  There is a significant lack of athletic trainers available to student-athletes in secondary schools.

As a certified athletic trainer, I think it’s very important to have the proper health care provider available all the time, and the training and education suggests that be a certified athletic trainer.  No other profession spends their entire education learning sports medicine like we do.  We learn to work with next to nothing in the way of supplies and facilities.  We learn to work within time constraints of the athlete.  They are much different from average patients.

The issue always comes down to money.  Administrators say they do not have the money to pay for an athletic trainer, but they have money to provide a nurse during the school day.  It is time that an athletic trainer be mandated for sports at the secondary school level. In these tough economic times, schools are struggling to provide basic services.  Teachers across the state of Illinois and across the country are facing layoffs and pay freezes or even pay cuts.  Programs are being dropped including sports, music, drama, and even some classes are getting cut.  Coaching positions are being cut as well and schools are relying more on volunteers.  But I am here to suggest that schools be required to hire a certified athletic trainer.  Where are they going to get that money?

My solution: It’s time for health insurance to step up and reimburse the services of athletic trainers.  Many of our services are already being reimbursed if those services are provided by other healthcare providers.  Physical Therapists are able to be reimbursed for rehabilitation as well as Physical Therapist Assistants.  Physicians are reimbursed for their evaluation of injuries and one newer, more specific, evaluation related to concussions with the IMPACT testing.  I am not saying that athletic trainers can do the jobs of those professions or professionals—we can’t.  Not in the same way that they do, but we can provide good health care for our athletes.  That is our education and our training.  We can do rehabilitation—look in a college or professional athletic training room.  We can do evaluations–we do it on a daily basis.  There is no reason an athletic trainer should not be able to treat athletes in the physical therapy clinic and be reimbursed for it.  Often, we are more skilled than the physical therapist assistant and even the physical therapist with regards to the athletic injury.  If insurance were to begin reimbursing for athletic training services, this would take a significant burden off of the schools and off of the clinics.  Athletic Trainers would no longer been seen as money being thrown away by a clinic because we do not provide a direct monetary benefit like a physical therapist does.

I am not suggesting that athletic trainers be allowed to start treating the 60-year old with a total knee reconstruction who has diabetes, hypertension, etc. Nor am I suggesting that we be allowed to treat a patient with significant neurological defects. However, an athletic trainer should be able to treat the 16-year old athlete with a torn anterior cruciate ligament whether or not he/she is in the athletic training room or the physical therapy clinic.

2 thoughts on “My Solution: Lack of Athletic Trainers in Secondary Schools

  1. Mike,

    I agree to an extent, especially ATs working in PT clinics and being viewed as “Marketing” or “Outreach” to the administration. ATs are very underutilized by the PT clinics and I think a lot of that comes from the PTs not wanting us to work there, not the insurance companies. I feel PTs have become very territorial in the clinic and only want PTs or PTAs to bill for services. The PTs I worked with never, never attempted to push for 3rd party reimbursement for ATS. NEVER! I was always told I couldn’t do things in the clinic, yet I could in the high school.

    Secondly, what do you propose for a full time Secondary School AT like myself? I think the highest paying setting is the Full Time high school ATC and one of the lowest settings is the clinic/high school setting. Your proposal is good in that it will increase pay for the lowest paid setting within athletic training, but it doesn’t address creating more positions in the highest paying setting. In fact, this may even hurt those positions. If a PT clinic approached my school district and offered to provide the services I provide for free, I could be out of a job.

    I do like the fact that athletic training is expanding its settings and offering more opportunities and better pay for new grads, but to promote this while neglecting our roots in the traditional setting isn’t the right thing to do, IMHO!

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Michael Hopper January 6, 2011 / 12:23

    Paul, I agree completely. My thought was more along the lines of could we see reimbursement in the athletic training room with the purpose to remove at least some of the burden from the school district? I think the athletic training profession needs to work harder to push for more positions in the traditional settings (high school and college settings). We need athletic trainers covering more and more practices and games. Every athlete deserves access to an athletic trainer.

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