Public Beats Private

February 24, 2017

A new study reveals that a greater percentage of U.S. public secondary schools than private secondary schools offer athletic training services to meet the health care needs of their student athletes. More than 7.8 million student athletes participate in secondary school sports. While 37 percent of public secondary schools in the country have a full-time athletic trainer (AT) – the gold standard of care recommended by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association – only 28 percent of private secondary schools do. “Athletic Training Services in Public and Private Secondary Schools” appears in the current issue of the Journal of Athletic Training, NATA’s scientific publication.

According to the research, only 58 percent of private secondary schools provide some extent of athletic training services, compared to 70 percent of public secondary schools. This includes full-time and part-time services, as well as ATs who are employed by a clinic and work in an outreach position at a secondary school in the afternoon. Only per diem athletic training services were more frequent in the private sector, but the difference was minimal. Percent of schools with athletic training coverage every afternoon was also investigated and was relatively comparable across public (48 percent) and private (40 percent) secondary schools.

“Despite the documented benefits of having an AT on site for both practices and games, many schools, public and private, do not provide this critical medical service to their students,” says lead author Alicia Pike, MS, ATC, associate director of research, Korey Stringer Institute, Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut. The researchers note that while a part-time AT offers some benefit to student athletes, secondary schools should work towards employing a full-time AT to ensure optimal medical care, as provided in collegiate and professional settings. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices. It’s during this time that athletes may perform drills or exercise longer than during games, leaving them without appropriate medical coverage. Schools that employ at least one full-time AT are better prepared to protect their student athletes during this particularly high-risk part of athletic participation.

The percentage of schools offering athletic training services has increased over the years, though researchers say there are still reasons why more schools have not provided them. Public and private schools share common barriers to hiring:

Budget: Lack of funding and support at the district administration level was the largest obstacle to overcome.

School size: Smaller schools found it difficult to justify the expense. This appeared to be a larger issue for private schools, which tend to have much smaller enrollments.

Lack of awareness: Athletic directors have a poor understanding of the role of an AT as a medical professional. They may call on coaches or other personnel as medical providers or believe they have no need for an AT as an integral part of their medical staff.

Location: Public schools had rural locale as an additional unique challenge. Athletic trainers did not live close enough to provide care.

“Student athlete safety should be a top priority,” comments Pike. “This alone justifies the need to find ways to employ an AT. We hope the results of our findings will generate education and awareness among athletic directors, school administrators and others in decision-making roles.”

Athletic trainers prevent, diagnose and treat injuries, manage emergency situations, often eliminate unnecessary physician visits and provide immediate care to reduce the risk of short and long-term consequences from conditions including exertional heat illnesses, sudden cardiac arrest and traumatic brain injuries.

Of the private secondary schools enrolling 100-199 students, only 44 percent reported employing an AT, but this percentage increases to 90 for private secondary schools with 400-499 students and reaches 100 percent for schools enrolling 1,000 to 1,099 students. “Despite the encouraging data demonstrating an increased prevalence of athletic training services as school size increases,” says Pike, “many students enrolled in smaller schools in particular are still not receiving adequate medical care.”

Schools that rely on coaches or others who do not have proper medical education to prevent or treat injuries or recognize the symptoms of life-threatening medical conditions are placing their student athletes at great risk. For secondary school administrators in hiring positions, Pike encourages a three-step call to action: “understand and believe in the role and value of an athletic trainer as a health care professional; recognize the need for an athletic trainer at the school; and formulate and execute a plan, including strategies to overcome any foreseen barriers to hiring an AT.”

Study background: Researchers from the Korey Stringer Institute in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut conducted the survey that was funded in part by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. School athletic directors (or principals, if no athletic director was employed) from 8,509 public secondary schools and 2,044 private schools responded to a survey by phone or email. Descriptive statistics depict national data, and open-ended questions were evaluated through content analysis. The data was collected from September 2011 to June 2014.

Resource information: 2015 “Athletic Training Services in Public Secondary Schools: A Benchmark Study.” 


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