How to Become an Athletic Trainer

Athletic trainer helping injured student on soccer field

Athletic training is a rigorous and sought-after career choice for people with a love of sports, sports medicine and athletics. Athletic trainers work with athletes and other clients to prevent, diagnose and treat sports-related injuries and medical conditions. The academic and professional steps required to obtain licensure as an athletic trainer begins with earning a relevant undergraduate degree.

Overview of Athletic Training

Typically, athletic trainers work under the direction of a licensed physician. While entry-level work in athletic training may only require licensure and a bachelor’s degree, continuing education is a key step to improve professional opportunities and allow athletic trainers to find competitive positions. Athletic trainers may work for a sports team, performing arts company, and other organizations that require direct care for performers, athletes and professionals. Athletic trainers are responsible for providing emergency care, first aid and implementing rehabilitation programs. Most importantly, athletic trainers work to prevent injuries. Some of the environments that athletic trainers work in include:

  • Schools, including universities
  • Fitness centers
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Physical and occupational therapy clinics

Earn Your Undergraduate Degree

If you decide to pursue a career in athletic training, your first step is to earn your undergraduate degree in the field. Your undergraduate degree will offer an intensive series of courses made to develop a solid theoretical and practical knowledge of skills such as injury evaluation and diagnosis, emergency care and first aid, therapeutic interventions, general medicine and injury prevention.

When pursuing courses on campus, consider making the most of your studies by forming a study group or finding relevant clubs. It is helpful to explore internship opportunities, especially in your junior and senior years. You can find opportunities at medical offices, sports organizations and organizations such as the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) that offer student membership.1 An internship will help you connect with professionals and heighten your practical knowledge of the medical field.

Fulfill All Licensing and Certification Requirements

After you graduate with an undergraduate athletic training degree, you will need to obtain the necessary licensure and certification to become a certified athletic trainer. Carefully research the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. Several states require athletic trainers to accept the National Board of Certification (BOC) credential.2 Once you obtain this national credential, you can apply to practice in your desired state.

Additionally, all athletic trainers must hold a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification to practice. You may wish to earn yours while working through your degree program. The American Red Cross routinely offers CPR certification courses at locations throughout the U.S. Note that you will need to periodically recertify.

Looking for an Athletic Training Job

Patience and persistence may be needed while you seek out your first athletic training job. In addition to checking online job boards, it is a good idea to search the NATA Career Center for opportunities. You can also submit your resume to sports organizations and local fitness centers and let them know you are available.

Once you have an interview, you should prepare for common interview questions such as “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Additionally, there will be industry-specific questions like “What would you do if a student-athlete shows signs of a concussion but insists that they feel fine?” You can also make a good impression on your interviewer by conducting research on the organization and preparing a list of questions to ask. For example, you may wish to ask the following types of questions:

  • In this position, would I be treating any non-sports-related injuries?
  • Would I be traveling to any off-site practice or game locations?
  • Would I play a role in drug testing athletes?
  • Is nutritional counseling available for the athletes?

Arriving at an interview prepared with questions is an indicator to interviewers that you are committed to the opportunity and prepared to adapt to a new workplace. If you are accepted for a job, do not be afraid to ask questions of your supervisor and colleagues. Your colleagues can serve as a valuable resource, helping you grow in your new role. Additionally, stay on the lookout for additional certification courses, additional athletic training education and other professional development opportunities.

Pursue a Master’s Degree

Although it may not be necessary to have your first job in the athletic training field, you should consider earning your master’s degree at some point. High-level jobs with prestigious organizations will typically require athletic trainers to hold a graduate degree According to NATA, about 70 percent of all athletic trainers in the U.S. have completed a graduate degree program.3

If you are ready to begin pursuing a career in athletic training, consider earning your athletic training degree at Grand Canyon University. The College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is proud to offer our Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training degree program, which provides students with a foundation in injury prevention, kinesiology and other crucial knowledge needed to practice athletic training. To learn more about our college, visit our website or click on the Request Information button on this page.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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