Certified Athletic Trainer

Certified Athletic Trainers work on cheerleaders
Cheerleaders receiving care from Certified Athletic Trainers

Certified Athletic Trainer

By: Kayla Fulghum, ATC

Most people have seen an athletic trainer, ATC, either during a Friday night high school football game, or perhaps during a professional or college basketball game. However, it may be a mystery to some who this individual is when he or she makes an appearance. So the question may arise, what is a certified athletic trainer (ATC)?

A Certified Athletic Trainer is an allied healthcare professional, whose main goal is the health and well-being of an athlete. So, if you are watching Monday Night Football and an athlete suffers some type of injury, the person who runs out on the field to check on him is a certified athletic trainer.

A Certified Athletic Trainer deals with the prevention, evaluation, management, and rehabilitation of athletic injuries and work with many other healthcare professionals as a part of the sports medicine team. Other members of the sports medicine team include the team physician and the coach. The team works with the athlete after an injury occurs to ensure that he or she will return to activity at 100% of their before-injury level

What are the main goals and characteristics of a Certified Athletic Trainer, ATC?

ATCs preparing for the game

As already mentioned, the main goal is to oversee the health and well-being of the athlete. To do this, the athletic trainer must be knowledgeable in many areas: anatomy, phases of injury and rehabilitation, special testing used in the evaluation process, bracing and splinting of injuries, pharmacology, nutrition, modalities and how they are used to speed the recovery process, and healthcare administration. One additional quality ATCs need to possess is the ability to be a “people person.” It is vital for ATCs to be good communicators, to be empathetic to their athlete’s injuries, to be trustworthy, and to maintain a sense of humor. During the course of a week, athletic trainers come in contact with a variety of people, so the ability to adapt is also very important.

How does one become a certified athletic trainer?

Individuals interested in becoming an ATC must attend and graduate from an accredited university or college. Accreditation is given to an institution, as long as they meet certain criteria set forth by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).” This commission, or committee, sends members of the athletic training community to the institution to review the educational curriculum currently provided to students enrolled in athletic training courses. The committee looks at all aspects of the program, makes suggestions for improvement, and gives a time frame for the accreditation team to evaluate the school. Today, there are over three hundred accredited athletic training programs in the United States.

ATCs ae they to assistance in injury situations

After graduating from an accredited institution, the student must take, and pass, the certification examination. The Board of Certification (BOC) oversees the certification exam. In the past, there were three parts to the BOC: a written portion containing questions from all aspects of athletic training, a written simulation in which students must predict how they would respond to an athletic emergency, and a practical exam in which students performed athletic training skills on live models. A student must pass all three portions to become certified. If not, he or she has to wait until the exam is offered again to retake it. Within the next year, the BOC is planning on computerizing the certification test. Therefore, all the parts will be combined to test the skills of a potential athletic trainer by simulating athletic injuries on the computer.

In addition to being certified by the BOC, most states mandate that athletic trainers be licensed in order to practice in that particular state. In the state of Georgia, for example, licensure must be obtained in order to practice athletic training.

Once a person is certified and/or licensed, they are required to maintain a certain number of continuing education units (CEU’s) every year. These units must be reported to the BOC and can be obtained through attending professional seminars and conferences, presenting at various lectures, and completing quizzes in athletic training literature.

Where can a student who has just become a Certified Athletic Trainer work?

There are many settings in which athletic trainers can be found. Some include, but are not limited to, secondary schools, colleges or universities, professional settings, the military, hospitals, sports medicine clinics, industrial sites, and the performing arts. A large number of these settings require other certifications and/or higher education, which is why over seventy percent of ATCs have at least a Master’s degree in a related field, such as Exercise Science or Education.

The field of athletic training has evolved over the years into a respected allied healthcare profession. We deal with athletes and injuries on a daily basis and are responsible for ensuring the safety and health of all those who choose to participate in physical activities.


Fulgam ATCKayla Fulghum, M.Ed., ATC, is a graduate of the Hughston Athletic Training Fellowship and completed her Masters of Education in Health and Physical Education, with teacher certification from Columbus State University in May of 2008.  Kayla is employed with the Muscogee County School District and teaches physical education at North Columbus Elementary School.  She continues to serve as the Head Athletic Trainer at Columbus High School, her school assignment as a Fellowship member, through Hughston Hospital’s Athletic Training Outreach Program.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Valdosta State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Athletic Training/Sports Medicine in May 2006.  During her last year at VSU, she served as President of the VSU Student Athletic Trainers Association and received the Outstanding Senior Major Award for the Athletic Training Department and the Kinesiology, Health and Physical Education Department.  Kayla was also named the Outstanding Clinical Student from 2004-2005.   While at VSU her responsibilities included football, volleyball, softball, and a rotation with Lowndes High School football.  She is an active member of the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA).

Provided by the Hughston Hospital, Columbus, GA

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