Aug 9, 2018
Developing Expertise
Timothy Neal

Say an athletic trainer wishes to become an expert in some area of athletic training. This could be in established topics such as modes of care, assessment, or return-to-play protocols. Newer areas of expertise may include data analytics or preventive systems. For the athletic trainer who wants to become a focused subject matter expert, passion and continuous learning are necessities. What are some other areas of personal development you should consider on your journey to becoming an expert?

In some cases, the adage of “necessity is the mother of invention” may apply. For instance, Ron Courson, ATC, PT, NRAEMT, Senior Director of Athletics for Sports Medicine at the University of Georgia, is an expert in several areas of sports medicine, especially emergency care. Ron, who was the site athletic trainer for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, provided emergency cardiac care to an official during the opening ceremony. In addition to that experience, Ron has been involved in numerous life-and-death emergencies on his campus during his career. Ron has developed his expertise through caring for medical emergencies, formulating plans to address these emergencies, collaborating with a cross-section of experts in developing emergency care, and forward thinking in preparing for potential emergencies.

Another expert in the area of emergency care in sports medicine is Darryl Conway, MA, AT, ATC, Senior Director of Athletics for Student-Athlete Health and Wellness at the University of Michigan. Like Ron, Darryl has had more than his share of managing emergencies and is one of the leaders in equipment removal for spine-injured athletes, as well as blood-loss control in trauma. Both Ron and Darryl are go-to experts for additional information on emergency care.

The key for expertise starts with a genuine interest and the ability to see potential outcomes.

The next consideration is thinking about how non-care influences ensure health care that withstands ethical standards. Kimberly Peer, EdD, ATC, Associate Professor of Athletic Training at Kent State University, and Gretchen Schlabach, PhD, ATC, Professor Emerita at Northern Illinois University, are experts in the area of ethics as it relates to the athletic training profession. These two professionals teamed up to author, Professional Ethics in Athletic Training. Marisa Colston, PhD, ATC, Professor of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, joins Drs. Peer and Schlabach as a scholar in the area of athletic training ethics with her work and publications in the areas of sexual abuse/human trafficking. All three have served on the NATA Committee of Professional Ethics, with Dr. Schlabach once serving as chair. Their genuine passion and contributions for ethical principles to be applied to athletic training practice have furthered the profession.

Another consideration for becoming an expert is vision. I became interested in the mental health of athletes over decades. More and more athletes I was caring for were dealing with mental health issues. My colleagues were reporting the same, so I set out to develop measures to address this growing concern.

Eventually, I established one of the first student-athlete mental health plans at the intercollegiate level while at Syracuse University. This lead to chairing two NATA Inter-Association Consensus Statements on developing a plan to assist student-athletes with psychological concerns. Then, I was selected to serve on several NCAA task forces on student-athlete mental health and wellness and asked to serve as an advisor to the America East Conference Student-Athlete Mental Health Work Group, one of the first of its kind in intercollegiate athletics.

The concern I had for athletes’ and patients’ mental health also lead me toward caring for fellow athletic trainers in the aftermath of a critical incident. One of the most rewarding contributions I have had is being on the ground floor of developing NATA ATs Care, the peer-to-peer support program for athletic trainers following a critical incident.

The leadership of Jim Thornton, MA, ATC, Head Athletic Trainer at Clarion University and former NATA president, and Dave Middlemas, PhD, ATC, Professor of Exercise Science at Montclair State University, of ATs Care has been outstanding. They, along with the great support of the NATA Board of Directors and NATA Senior Special Projects Coordinator Katie Scott, MS, ATC, have helped hundreds of fellow athletic trainers deal with the emotional impact of experiencing a critical incident. I am proud to be part of the ATs Care Committee and an approved International Critical Incident Stress Foundation instructor of critical incident stress management, training fellow athletic trainers on assisting individuals in crisis.

Other areas of athletic trainer expertise may include concussion management, medical clearance issues, and other administrative concerns that athletic trainers face on a daily basis. Developing expertise comes from passion, dedicated learning, experience, scholarship, collaboration with groups, and positive outcomes. Some athletic trainers are experts in several areas. The key for expertise starts with a genuine interest, the ability to see potential outcomes, and taking the steps necessary to positively influence an area that affects patients and athletic trainers.

Image by Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma.

Timothy Neal, MS, AT, ATC, CCISM, is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Athletic Training Education at Concordia University Ann Arbor. Previously, he spent more than 30 years at Syracuse University, serving in a variety of sports medicine roles. Neal is also a member of the Ohio University Alumni Association Board of Directors. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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