Doctor on Board

February 16, 2018
By Larry Cooper

Larry Cooper, MS, LAT, ATC, is Head Athletic Trainer at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pa., where he also teaches health, physical education, and sports medicine classes. Since 2012, he has served as Chair of the NATA Secondary School Athletic Trainers’ Committee. Winner of a 2016 NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer Award, 2015 T&C Most Valuable Athletic Trainer Award, and 2014 NATA Athletic Training Service Award, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society Hall of Fame in 2014. Cooper can be reached at:


Team physicians and athletic trainers need to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Both entities have a mutual desire to help our student-athletes do something they love to do.

Athletic trainers rarely have input over the team physician’s employment and vice versa, so we often need to work in order to make the best of a given situation. Understandably, this does not occur overnight. Both of us play an integral part in developing this relationship. Just like the connections with your significant other, your parents, your coaches, and your athletes, it takes time to nurture and build this relationship. So, how can you make the most of the athletic trainer and team physician dynamic?

In order for the physician to sign off on your emergency action plans, standard operating procedures, weight certification forms, and protocols, they need to work with you every step of the way.
First and foremost, you need to open the lines of communication. That can be a challenge for some in today’s society due to our use of devices and the proliferation of social media. It seems that actual face-to-face interaction and communication is getting to be a lost commodity. This however, is the ONLY way to develop a relationship with your team physician. Some are extremely organized and have post-surgical protocols for each surgery they perform. Others may rely on your experience or expertise for suggestions about a post-surgical patient.
You will not know what type of physician you are dealing with until the questions have been asked, and that can only come from spending time together. This can be on the sidelines, during school physical exams, while shadowing in the doctor’s office, or time spent together away from school, athletics, or the office.

Going off of that, make sure you’re on the same page with your physician about different treatment approaches. We all have differing philosophies on injuries, rehabilitation, return-to-play criteria, taping, and the like, so it is extremely critical to spend time with your physician and discus different scenarios and each other’s approach. This can help both of you understand what parameters you should work within.

Make no mistake, following these pieces of advice will take some effort. But if handled properly, it will make everyone’s job much easier. In order for the physician to sign off on your emergency action plans, standard operating procedures, weight certification forms, and protocols, they need to work with you every step of the way. More importantly, it will improve the level of athletic health care that is available to your school community.

There is no way that I can impress upon you the magnitude of the bond between physician and athletic trainer. I would go as far to say that it is the single most important investment you can make for your professional development in the secondary school setting. So take the time to develop and cultivate a meaningful, long-lasting association.

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