Uniting ATs and EMTs

October 1, 2018


After a middle school football player was knocked unconscious during a game at Clover (S.C.) High School last October, both an athletic trainer and emergency medical services (EMS) responded. But they were at odds over what to do next. The paramedics insisted on removing only some of the player’s equipment, while the athletic trainer wanted to either remove all or none of it.

Does this scenario seem familiar? It’s the latest example in the long history of athletic trainers and EMS disagreeing on how to treat an injured athlete. Fortunately, this incident led to efforts to improve the working relationship between the two groups.

Clover, located in York County, is serviced by Piedmont EMS. Shortly after the middle school football player’s injury, Kim Bressler, MAEd, ATC, SCAT, Head Athletic Trainer for Clover, reached out to Tom Howard, AHS, NRP, FP-C, Assistant Chief of Operations for Piedmont EMS, to clarify a few things.

“The middle of assessing an injury is not the time for a dispute between athletic trainers and EMS,” Bressler says. “So, I contacted Piedmont EMS and discussed our protocols and their protocols in that scenario. I wanted to see if there was a way we could merge the two. That led to a meeting with Tom Howard, and from there, I was in regular communication with him.”

A number of York County athletic trainers also attended the December meeting. As a result, Howard established new procedures for Piedmont EMS that brought them in line with the athletic trainers when it came to equipment removal and caring for victims of heat stroke. In addition, it was agreed that on-site athletic trainers would provide initial care to student-athletes before handing them over to EMS.

“The process has been made much clearer as far as patient care and who’s responsible for which aspect of an emergency scenario,” Bressler says. “It makes me feel much better to know that when EMS arrives, they’ll be familiar with our equipment removal techniques.”

In February, further steps were taken to bring the groups closer. Piedmont EMS had scheduled training throughout the month, so York County athletic trainers also attended these sessions to learn and teach. At the workshops, the athletic trainers informed the emergency medical technicians (EMTs) about proper equipment removal, and both parties were able to ask questions to clear up any remaining confusion.

Now that the two groups are seeing eye to eye, Anna Adams, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at York Comprehensive High School, is confident there will be better communication in the future. “The EMTs got more of an understanding for what we do, what we’re qualified to do, and how we can work together to best serve the student-athletes,” she says. “Getting to know some of them and developing more of a relationship was very helpful.”

They plan to continue collaborating and learning from each other. Adams says there was a meeting before the start of the football season to review protocols, and plans to hold an educational day for all local athletic trainers and EMTs have been made.

“The better communication we have with EMS, the better we can serve our athletes, and that’s what we are here for,” says Adams. “I know from our conversations that they’ve really enjoyed hearing more about what we do. Not everyone understands the full scope of our practice as athletic trainers, and it’s nice to get everyone on the same page so we can use our skills to work together.”

This article appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.

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