Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

January 2020

Study Finds One-Third of U.S. High Schools Have No Access to Athletic Trainers

By Chandler Garland

A new study published in the Journal of Athletic Training—the National Athletic Trainers' Association's (NATA) scientific publication—shows that, despite ongoing tragedies in sports as well as research from a host of sources concluding that schools with athletic trainers (ATs) have lower injury rates, 34% of public and private high schools in the United States still have no access to athletic trainers. And, of the schools with access to ATs, 47% only receive part-time services even though full-time services are the gold standard of care.

"Despite an increase in the number of legal cases, court-ordered overhauling of health and safety policies, and awarding of large settlements, school districts, school education boards, state legislators and state athletic associations continue to take a reactive, rather than proactive, approach to addressing safety concerns," said lead author Robert Huggins, Ph.D., LAT, ATC.

Specializing in the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of injuries and sport-related illnesses, athletic trainers are the only allied health care practitioners trained in injury prevention for the physically active. They prevent and treat chronic musculoskeletal injuries from sports, physical and occupational activity, and provide immediate care for acute injuries. They also provide on-site emergency and non-emergency care, coordinate appropriate follow-up, conduct rehabilitation and return individuals to safe participation in sports.

As part of their scope of practice, ATs are specially trained to recognize and recommend treatment for: concussion, heat illness, exertional sickling (sickle cell), eating disorders, cardiac arrest, diabetic episodes, early onset osteoarthritis, overuse injuries, substance abuse, disease transmission, weight management, dental and oral injuries, and weather-related safety.

The study also indicates that the lack of appropriate sports medicine care is even greater for private schools than public schools. Of the private schools that participated in this study (4,196), 45% had no AT services and only 27% received full-time services. Meanwhile, 31% of the public schools that participated in this study (16,076) had no AT services, while 37% received full-time services.

"The safety of student athletes must be the top priority for schools with athletic programs, not just in rhetoric, but in allocation of resources to put the appropriate personnel in place," said NATA President Tory Lindley, MA, ATC. "Schools need to see athletic trainers are an essential requirement to having an athletics program—similar to how they see the coach. While coaches oversee play on the field, athletic trainers are responsible for injury prevention and addressing the physical and mental effects of playing the game. Athletic trainers should not be a luxury but rather a necessity for all programs."

To date, this is the most comprehensive study to capture the level of athletic trainer services as it included every U.S. public and private high school with an athletics program. Data for this research was collected from September 2015 to April 2018 by phone or email communication with school administrators or ATs as well as through online surveys of secondary school ATs.

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