Oct 17, 2016
Changing Course-Part 2
Timothy Neal

Last week, we detailed the career changes that led Timothy Neal, MS, ATC, to become Head Athletic Trainer/Assistant Director of Sports Medicine at Syracuse University in 2000. In this second installment, Neal describes the professional twists and turns since then that paved the way to his current position.

After I became the Head Athletic Trainer at Syracuse, I began to develop some varied interests in the sports medicine field. For instance, early in my tenure, I was selected by the NATA to serve as liaison to the NCAA Football Rules Committee. During my time as NATA liaison, I wrote language for what is now the targeting rule in college football and created the horse collar tackle penalty, along with other initiatives that highlighted the value of athletic trainers in maintaining the health and safety of college football student-athletes. Because of this experience, I was selected to serve on other NATA and NCAA task forces and committees. From these roles, I gained valuable insights into working with a wide spectrum of stakeholders and achieving goals that were both practical and applicable within intercollegiate sports medicine departments.

Around 2005, my interests narrowed to three key sports medicine challenges: increasing student-athlete mental health concerns, legal and risk management issues in sports medicine, and the perceived challenges felt by newly certified athletic trainers. In my time at Syracuse, I had worked with hundreds of student-athletes who had mental health disorders across the entire spectrum, and I decided to create a sports medicine/athletic department student-athlete psychological concerns plan — one that became the model for the NATA-sponsored Inter-Association Consensus Statement on Developing a Plan to Recognize and Refer Student-Athletes with a Psychological Concern at the Collegiate Level. Regarding the area of legal and risk management, I was being approached for advice and asked to act as an expert witness in legal cases, which was taking more and more of my time. Finally, my contemporaries and I were becoming concerned over the preparation of newly certified athletic trainers entering graduate school each year. I was frustrated by their lack of commitment to the profession and the athletes we were caring for.

My focus and devotion to these three areas led to my next career move. In 2014, I retired from Syracuse to pursue consulting work in order to put my body of knowledge to use and address the concerns I listed above. I had evolved from a clinical expert into a scholarly expert in athletic training, and I wanted to apply that growing expertise to benefit the profession.

For other athletic trainers looking to make a career move, take into account what you most desire from your profession — and I don’t mean money or status. What type of position would you enjoy going to each day?

Though I was in a financial position to stay retired, I became restless not long after and went looking to apply my passion, expertise, and insights into my evolution as an instructor and scholar in athletic training. I came to the conclusion that I should continue to engage the three challenges that concerned me at the end of my tenure at Syracuse by obtaining a faculty position in a CAATE-accredited program.

After doing some research and looking for the right fit for me, I was able to obtain an Assistant Professor/Clinical Education Coordinator position at Concordia University Ann Arbor in January 2016. As a private Christian university, Concordia aligns with my faith and values. Of the great experiences I have had in my career, being a mentor and teaching what I know to future certified athletic trainers is the most rewarding. I am looking to continue this in my new position at Concordia.

In summary, whenever I was about to make a change throughout my career, I looked at whether it would help fulfill my long-term goals, values, and ethics in helping the profession and others. For other athletic trainers looking to make a career move, take into account what you most desire from your profession — and I don’t mean money or status. What type of position would you enjoy going to each day? For me, going to work was my hobby because I enjoyed it so much. I hope that you too are pursuing your expertise and values to enjoy your career as much as I have.

Timothy Neal, MS, ATC, is Clinical Education Coordinator of the Athletic Training Education Program at Concordia University Ann Arbor and President of TLN Consulting. He has more than 35 years of experience as an athletic trainer at the NCAA Division I level. Neal can be reached at: [email protected].

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