Athletic Trainers Beware

March 19, 2019

By Maria Hutsick, MS, LATC, CSCS

I wasn’t sure if I was going to write this and address the dilemma I found myself in last year. I have been practicing athletic training for over 41 years. I was the Dir. Of Sports Medicine at Boston University for almost 30 years, and I am currently working at the high school level in Massachusetts.

My dilemma started when I wrote an article for the Training and Conditioning newsletter. I wrote about my experience using dry needling in my work environment at the high school. I took a course and passed the exam the class required both written and practical. A person who I believe was an acupuncturist took exception with the article and filed a complaint with my board of allied health professions. I understand that the acupuncturist are upset because physical therapist can charge and be reimbursed by insurance companies while the acupuncturist can not.

The complaint about dry needling in Massachusetts was proved to have no bearing on my license as I was certified and the modality is not illegal in my state as long as you are certified to apply the dry needling. The Board asked me who I treated besides student athletes and I provided them with two coaches who were injured during their season and I treated my principal one time and referred him to a specialist who performed surgery on his elbow.

Now I know that athletic trainers treat anyone who asks them and never think we are practicing beyond our license. My principal is an avid golfer and biker and is in the same school as me. Well the board said I treated someone who was outside my scope of practice and were going to suspend my license and fine me.

I contacted the NATA, EATA, ATOM and the BOC. None of these athletic trainer associations offered any help and really said I was on my own. I ended up hiring a lawyer and fighting the Board. I was given a document to sign that stated I admit to practicing outside my scope and I did not receive any punishment other than a record of the complaint. Now I had to pay over $6000 to my lawyer to fight this. I was very disappointed by the athletic training organizations and my Board for pursuing such a small infraction when so many other serious ones are committed by others all the time.

I want to get this article out to my colleagues because I want to warn you not to treat anyone at your school who is not an athlete, or coach. Make that a student athlete. If you treat anyone else who often seeks our advice it may cause you to be investigated and punished by your board.

I want the NATA and state organizations to look into this. If we are healthcare professionals why does the NATA allow this to go unaddressed and not in our corner to provide assistance in this area and to get the laws passed to prevent this from happening to others. Instead of looking to require a Doctorate of athletic training and plunging our profession deeper in debt why not address this much needed area of our professional practice? We need to have this addressed. I did not charge a fee for service and felt I was singled out for a very small issue.

So if you practice athletic training be careful who you treat. Anyone who is not an athlete may get you in to violation of your state practice laws. No other healthcare professionals are limited to who they can treat if they are an athlete and injured doing an athletic activity.  

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