Posted May 2, 2016
By Kurt Andrews MS, ATC, PES, CES
It’s the last few weeks of your spring semester in the first year of your entry-level master’s program. Fatigue set in a long time ago. You have 3 different projects to finish up, and you’re over the grad-school diet of $5.00 Hot-N-Ready and the unlimited supply of Gatorade in your fridge. Your head is buried in between the pages of your Prentice book while there isn’t enough coffee left in your cup to keep you going through the night. Your hands rapidly flip through your upper eval class PowerPoint slides as you try to remember the difference between D1 and D2 PNF patterns for shoulder rehab exercises. We have all been there. Those days pass, and the grass gets greener. It is just a necessary part of the process.
As the summer approaches, some students prepare to enter the working world. Their days are filled with résumés, applications, interviews, rejections, second interviews, rejections, emails and phone calls with their Program Directors and clinical coordinators. Eventually, a job offer comes, and sooner or later it will come. For everyone else who has a year left in your program, summer time means the opportunity to go out and gain experience in the setting of your preference. As our profession continues to grow, more and more opportunities are out there to gain quality experience alongside Certified Athletic Trainers (ATs).
The Value of a Summer Experience
Gaining summer athletic training experience alongside ATs is very important and gives students the opportunity to work in the setting they see suitable for their prospective careers. It gives students the opportunity to decide whether or not the work environment meets their career wishes and interests. The experience emphasizes what students have learned in the classroom, but also teaches them important lessons about the athletic training profession outside the classroom.
One of the most important opportunities offered to a student is the chance to acquire new skills by observing the practitioners who work in that setting. However, students and practitioners must be aware of state regulations governing summer athletic training experience. Remember, students are responsible for knowing the state practice acts and what patient care they can engage in if this experience is not part of their clinical education.
Of equal importance, this experience allows many opportunities for students to network with people in their setting of interest who they otherwise would not have had access to. The first-hand experience also represents the crossover between the classroom and clinical setting, making it easier for students to kick start their careers post-graduation. At the culmination, the student should feel that it provided both career development and meaningful work experience. They should also feel they were able to explore their interests, develop their professional skills and continue to improve their competency.
It is especially important for those of us practitioners who work with athletic training students to realize that we have an opportunity to mold the up-and-coming ATs. We can be an integral part of the growing process for the students we work with, in addition to the future of our profession.
As a current AT and former athletic training student, I can speak with confidence about how important these experiences are for students in the athletic training field. Therefore, the following are tips on how to get the most out of your experience:
- Be open minded and adaptable. The professional setting doesn’t always operate in black and white, and not every answer can be found in a book. In this role, you have to be able to problem solve and critically think under pressure.
- Show initiative. A good piece of advice I learned long ago, when I was 14 working at McDonald’s, was something my manager always said, “If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.” You should never be bored nor should you be caught just standing around. Always have the mindset that something needs to be done or could get done.
- No one is too good or above doing a certain task. In this role, you are a very important part of the sports medicine team, so don’t think that your work goes unnoticed. Filling the fridges, doing the laundry, cleaning the coolers and warm/cold tubs, stocking the cabinets and cleaning the athletic training facility are part of your daily tasks. If these tasks don’t get done, the team as a whole can’t function.
- Stand out for the right reasons. The goal of this experience is to further your clinical work experience. However, the importance of getting positive recommendations from the supervising practitioners cannot be understated. They are the ones who will be able to recommend you for future job openings.
- Plan for the financial burden. These positions are paid positions, which can help offset some of the incurred costs. Remember, you are there for the experience and opportunity to grow, both personally and professionally. This is an investment in your future, so plan out a budget for the summer and stick to it.
- Work hard. Keep your head down and stay focused. You want your peers, players, coaches, administrative and sports medicine personnel to remember you as the hard-working member of the team. You are a significant person on the sports medicine staff, and the tasks given to you are very important.
- Ask questions. This is the time to ask them. You are there to learn from experts currently in the field. If you feel uncomfortable asking a question, go home to do some research on your own and come in the next day to talk it over with your supervisor. Just remember to find the right time to ask questions. Each AT may have a different philosophy on when questions should be asked.
- Observe, listen, learn and repeat. Be a sponge. Listen to how the ATs interact with players, coaches and administrative personnel. Learn as much as you can from all the staff members you come in contact with. These observations will help you identify what is most important to put into your “athletic training tool box” and allow you to grow as a professional at your future clinical sites.
- Be punctual. This should be pretty straight forward: don’t be late. As a good rule of thumb get to work earlier than your boss. It will never be held against you.
- Don’t panic and have fun. Remember that you chose this because it will help you reach your professional goals. You got the position over other qualified candidates, so the staff has high expectations for you. Be confident. Laugh at yourself and with others. Learn from your mistakes and keep your head held high. You want to look back at the end of the summer with fondness at the memories you created.
About the Author
Kurt Andrews, originally from the metro Detroit area, graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in 2008 from Oakland University. He has been a BOC Certified Athletic Trainer since 2011 where he earned his master’s in Athletic Training from the entry level master’s program at the University of Arkansas. He currently is in his fifth year as an assistant Athletic Trainer for the Major League Soccer (MLS) club LA Galaxy. He currently holds memberships with NATA, CATA and PSATS where he serves on the sponsorship, continuing education and research committees and was presently serving as the Western Conference senator.