The purpose of specialization in healthcare is to improve the quality of care provided to patients, to enhance clinical outcomes, and ultimately, to improve the patient’s health related quality of life. Specialties within a discipline arise in response to the development of new knowledge and skills in a clearly defined area of clinical practice that can. Rapid increases in healthcare knowledge and the expansion of athletic training into new and emerging settings has created a clear need for athletic training practitioners who specialize in obtaining the best outcomes possible in specific patient populations and for specific types of injuries and illnesses. Specialization in healthcare requires significant clinical experience in a prescribed content area, a sustained training effort, and culminates in a valid credential denoting clinical expertise. The most common form of specialty credential in healthcare is specialty certification. The purpose of specialty certification in athletic training is to provide an advanced clinical practice credential that demonstrates the attainment of specialized knowledge and skills.
The NATA Post-Professional Education Committee has developed the framework for specialization in athletic training. Prior to development of a specialty certification credential, approved areas of specialization within the profession need to be developed. This will begin with a comprehensive petitioning process. Approval of an athletic training petition for an area of specialization will denote the formal recognition by the profession that athletic trainers exhibit specialized knowledge and skills in a defined area of clinical practice. This petition was modeled after the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties petition with their approval and support.
Currently, it is not clear to what degree the athletic training community is prepared to pursue the rigorous approval process for specialty recognition. Your thoughts and opinions on this are most welcome.
Subsequent development of a specialty certification credential within an approved area of specialization will follow best practices for health professions certification development and will include the completion of a job analysis (i.e., role delineation study) and the development of a valid credentialing exam. A cost-benefit analysis will be a requisite prior to the pursuit of a specialty certification exam to ensure that an appropriate number of applicants will seek the credential to offset the costs associated with exam development and administration. Only about 3% of pharmacists hold one of the six different specialty certifications in their profession. Read more in the Board of Pharmacy Specialties Annual Report. Despite the development of a well grounded approach to specialty certification aimed to improve patient care, it remains to be seen if this degree of success can be successfully implemented and sustained in a profession roughly 1/10th the size of the pharmacy profession.
Written By: Eric L. Sauers, PhD, ATC, FNATA