Catching Up with Maria Hutsick

November 26, 2015

The following article appears in the December 2015 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Few athletic trainers have had their name appear in our pages more than Maria Hutsick, MS, ATC, LAT, CSCS. That’s because few have had a career as influential and trailblazing as hers.

Only five years after earning her master’s degree from Indiana University, and two years after joining the Boston University sports medicine team, Hutsick became the department’s Head Athletic Trainer in 1982. One of the first females to lead an NCAA Division I athletic training staff, she spent the next 27 years at BU before leaving to become Head Athletic Trainer at Medfield (Mass.) High School, where she has been for the past eight years. Along the way, Hutsick has served as a member of the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, a District I representative for the NATA Board of Certification, President of the College Athletic Trainers’ Society, and the Athletic Trainer for the silver medal-winning 2002 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team.

A member of the Training & Conditioning editorial board since 2000, Hutsick has lent her voice and byline to a number of articles that covered a range of topics, including concussions in soccer, handling unique rehabs, and traveling abroad with a team. In addition, she’s been a two-time finalist for our Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award and made an appearance on our March 2005 cover.

As part of our 25th anniversary celebration, T&C recently talked with Hutsick about her career arc, transitioning to the high school setting, and covering football. She also shares her thoughts on being a pioneering voice and offers advice to both rookie and veteran athletic trainers.

 

Along with being one of the first women to head a D-I athletic training department, you covered football at BU when it was rare for a female to do so. What was that experience like?

It was tough. The players didn’t care that I was female, but the head coach and his assistants were brutal to me. They conveyed a lot of doubt and second guessing about my skills, as well as disrespect. Once they called me “Typhoid Mary” when I brought them an injury report. I got so angry that I wadded it up, threw it on the ground, and left.

I thought about quitting. But I knew that if I gave up, it could ruin future opportunities for other female athletic trainers who wanted to cover football. So I stuck it out, and I lasted longer than the coaching staff. In the end, I think it really helped my career. I learned how to be tough, to not take crap from anybody, and to speak my mind when I saw something I didn’t agree with. Working with football also exposed me to all different types of injury situations, which made me a better athletic trainer.

How did you get promoted to Head Athletic Trainer so quickly?

It was actually under some very sad circumstances. One of our men’s basketball players collapsed and died on the court due to cardiomyopathy. The death hit hard for our head athletic trainer, who was already feeling burnt out. He resigned, and I was named to the position even though I only had a few years of experience.

How did the player’s death impact you and the program?

I was the first responder, and I still remember it vividly. It occurred during a preseason captain’s practice. A few members of the team came rushing into my office and started dragging me to the gym. I saw the player lying on the court and started CPR on him, which I continued for 45 minutes—even though he was probably dead before he hit the floor.

In the fallout, I realized that although there was probably nothing we could have done to save that athlete, we were not prepared to handle the situation. So immediately after taking over as Head Athletic Trainer, I wrote an emergency action plan, which at that time was not yet standard or required.

How did you become involved with the U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team?

Shortly after the team won the gold at the Nagano Olympics, its players started working with Mike Boyle, who was the BU strength coach at the time, and using our strength and conditioning facility. When any of them got injured, they came to me informally for treatment. The team’s head coach asked if I would be interested in traveling with the squad to Germany for a tournament, and I quickly said yes. The trip went really well, and I was asked to cover the team at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Doing so required me to take a sabbatical from BU, which I was able to do. It was a fantastic experience, and I worked with the program off and on for several years after that.

Why did you leave BU?

I loved the school, the athletes, and the sports medicine staff, but I was very frustrated with the athletic administration. The athletic director and I were constantly butting heads. At that point, my title was Director of Sports Medicine, but I felt like I couldn’t truly lead the department effectively. We were severely understaffed—I had five full-time assistants and two graduate assistants covering 24 sports—underpaid, and experiencing a ton of turnover.

In 2007, I took another sabbatical to work with the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team, which allowed me to take a step back and think about my situation at BU. My frustration with the athletic director had reached a head, and I realized I needed to make a career change. I had friends in athletic training tell me how great it was to work at the high school level, so I started to consider it. Finally, after a great deal of thought and reflection, I resigned from BU. The next day, I had my job at Medfield.

What was it like going to the high school level after all those years in D-I?

High school has been a great setting for me. I get summers and weekends off, and I don’t have to travel as far or as often during the week. Plus, BU dropped football in 1997, and I really missed it. Going to Medfield has enabled me to cover football again.

I’ve been here for eight years. The school is academically oriented with a lot of emphasis on athletics, and the programs are very well-supported. It’s a great job.

What is your day-to-day like?

During the school day, I teach a health class and a sports medicine class. I also open the athletic training room from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., so kids can get treatment and do rehab then instead of staying after school. I open up the room again at 2 p.m., when I am joined by a group of eight to 10 students interested in athletic training who I mentor. They shadow me for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

What does the mentoring program entail?

The students involved are highly visible and a big part of our athletic program, but they completely understand that their role must be limited. I tell them, “You’re working under my license, so you can’t do anything without my approval.” In some ways, I treat them like assistant athletic trainers, but they are always very close to me so I can see what they’re doing.

They are a big help. They learn how to tape with my full oversight and provide cues for basic stretching and lumbar stabilization exercises I teach the athletes. I make sure the coaches and athletes give them their due respect. Many go into the medical field after college, and seeing that is very fulfilling.

How does working with high school athletes differ from college athletes?

Size and skill are two big differences, but I treat and talk to high schoolers the same way I did with my college athletes. They are easy to work with and appreciative. However, I’m a lot more involved with parents than I was in the college setting. Whenever a kid is injured, I call their parent and discuss it with them.

In terms of injuries, I see more fractures at the high school level. Teenage boys experience huge growth spurts, which makes avulsion fractures more common. There are also a lot of overuse injuries, especially in females. To combat that, I have been trying to get the girls into our strength and conditioning room to overcome imbalances that usually result from a lack of general strength.

How are you handling concussions?

When I got here, the school didn’t have a written emergency action plan or concussion protocol, so those were some of the first things I put together. We now administer a baseline screen to all incoming freshmen, whether they play sports or not, because I found that a lot of students sustained concussions doing things like skateboarding and skiing, and I didn’t have baselines for those kids. Another piece of the program is a post-concussion academic accommodation plan [see “Heads & Headers” in our September 2013 issue].

What drove you to get involved with committee work at the national level?

I wanted to make athletic training better as a profession. Throughout my career, I’ve fought for higher salaries, improved working conditions, and more respect.

For instance, one of the causes I lobbied for most ardently on the national level was moving athletic training out of the athletic department and under the direction of a physician. I’ve always felt that it’s a conflict of interest for an athletic director to oversee the sports medicine team. Plus, they have no medical background, so how can they evaluate what we do?

This was something I tried to change at BU toward the end of my tenure there. A couple of years after I left, they did transition to having athletic trainers work under the direction of a physician, which I was happy to see. With that change, the budget went up, salaries increased, and the staff wasn’t under the rule of the athletic director, which made things much better.

In addition, advancement of female athletic trainers has been a priority for me. We’ve come a long way, but there are still settings that lag behind in hiring women—like the NHL and NFL. It’s changing, but there is a lot of work left to be done.

You’ve written or been quoted in a lot of T&C articles. Which ones stand out?

The article about how we updated our medical records at BU is the first that comes to mind. We were really struggling with that right around the time HIPAA was implemented. The wife of one of my assistants was a medical records expert, and she helped us set up our system so it was more like a doctor’s office. As a result, we became much more professional and kept better records. Then another one of my assistants, Larry Venis, who is now the Head Athletic Trainer at BU, created a computer program that allowed us to do everything electronically. It was something we had to do to raise our standard of care, and our entire staff worked hard to make the transition.

What’s your advice for younger athletic trainers?

I tell them to maintain a strong work ethic, study our craft, and keep up with cutting-edge techniques. Instead of complaining about a coach behind their back, approach them directly and share your concerns.

Additionally, when stepping into a leadership position, it’s important to hire really good assistant athletic trainers and let them make decisions. Give them ownership of the team they work with. And be nice to your staff—if you treat people poorly, it can come back to haunt you because this profession is not that big.

 

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