Children's Hospital Colorado

What is an Athletic Trainer?

Athletic trainer helps football player adjust helmet.

If you’ve been an athlete or the parent of an athlete, you might be familiar with what an athletic trainer is and what services they provide. Athletic trainers are a unique group of healthcare professionals who are recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA) and specialize in the prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of acute and chronic athletic injuries and medical conditions. 

“Athletic trainers play an important role in proper recognition of an injury and management of care and are essential in helping to keep athletes safe through prompt evaluation and clear communication with coaching staff," said Julie Wilson, MD, Co-Director of Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Concussion Program in the Sports Medicine Center.

Injury response and prevention

Athletic trainers are an important part of any sports medicine care team. They are often the first responders to injuries that happen in practice or competition. Athletic trainers are equipped to care for athletes with serious sports injuries and conditions, which can include heat illness, cardiac events and brain and spinal cord injuries that can be life-threatening if not properly managed.

Athletic trainers also play an important role in recognizing, assessing and managing concussions including supporting critical return to play decisions. They also help counsel coaches, parents and athletes about concussion prevention and management.

Athletic trainers in Colorado

According to “Athletic Training Services in Public Secondary Schools: A Benchmark Study:”

  • Across the nation, 70% of responding public secondary schools reported that they have access to athletic trainer services, but only 37% had full-time athletic trainer services.  
  • In Colorado, 56% of responding public secondary schools reported that they have access to athletic trainer services, but only 24% had full-time athletic trainer services.  

Though the national increase of care is encouraging, at Children’s Colorado we are advocating for improving percentages here in Colorado to ensure that young athletes can participate in sports as safely as possible.  

Athletic trainer qualifications

To become an athletic trainer, one must first earn a bachelor’s degree in athletic training from an accredited athletic training education program. More than 70% of athletic trainers have also earned master’s degrees and several hold PhDs.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective athletic trainers must sit for a comprehensive three-part examination administered by the Board of Certification (BOC). Once the BOC exam is passed, candidates are granted athletic training certification (ATC). Only those who have passed the BOC may use the title “athletic trainer.”

Most states regulate the practice of athletic training and additional licensure or registration must be obtained before an athletic trainer is allowed to practice. Once certified, an athletic trainer must complete ongoing continuing education requirements in order to maintain certification. For more information, please see the complete education overview provided by the National Athletic Trainer’s Association (NATA).

Our Sports Medicine Center

At Children’s Hospital Colorado, we employ more than 20 certified athletic trainers in various capacities. This includes physician extenders, who partner with our sports medicine physicians in clinic, and community outreach athletic trainers, who provide medical services in high schools and youth sports clubs in the Denver metro area.