Aug 10, 2018
Dr. AT
Dr. Erin E. Hassler

Choosing athletic training as a career has been one of the most important, empowering, and rewarding decisions of my entire life. It took me a while to find the profession, but ever since I did, I have never stopped learning.

As an undergraduate biology research student at Clark Atlanta University, I enjoyed learning and participating as an intercollegiate athlete. As I got closer to graduation, I wondered how I would utilize my degree. I knew that I didn’t want to go to medical school because of the time commitment but didn’t know what else to do.

In 1996, my senior year was approaching, and the Summer Olympic Games were coming to Atlanta. The city was buzzing with “Olympic fever.” I happened to catch a feature story on the local news that highlighted the medical staff and volunteers who would be caring for the athletes representing the United States. Immediately, I was locked in and knew that sports medicine was going to be my chosen path.

Time management [was] one of the more difficult things to achieve. This is something most athletic trainers deal with anyway because of game and practice schedule changes, medical emergencies, administrative duties, and life away from work, but it was amplified by my academic work.

So I set out to ask anyone I could find to direct me toward my newly found passion. I asked my family physician, my professors, and my team doctor, and everyone said medical school was the best option for me if I wanted to maximize my career. As much as I didn’t want to spend that much time in school, I was excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. I practiced for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) and found orthopedic physicians to shadow. I learned a lot but was still a little discouraged with the small amount of time the physicians spent working directly with athletes.

While going through the medical school admissions process, I graduated college and found a job in a local bank, completely unrelated to anything scientific or medical. I was flipping through the newspaper one day and found an ad for a graduate-level program with the emphasis on sports health sciences at Life University, a chiropractic college in the area. I jumped at the opportunity to learn through a curriculum targeted at my interests.

Following graduation, I moved to Houston in 2000 and have lived here ever since. In that time, I have been fortunate to work in every area of athletic training, from little league and youth sports, to high school and intercollegiate sports, to professional sports, and even entrepreneurship.

As fortunate as I have been over the past 18 years, I have spent the majority of that time looking for ways to learn more about athletic training. I couldn’t understand why I would have to switch careers in order to maximize my experience in sports medicine. There were always continuing education opportunities and resources available, but I knew that I needed more structure.

Over the last 10 years or so, there has been an increase in the development of doctoral programs designed specifically for athletic trainers. It took awhile, but I finally found a program that met my needs. In March 2015, I joined a cohort of phenomenal athletic training professionals in the A.T. Still University Doctor of Athletic Training (DAT) Program, all seeking both personal and professional advancement.

One of the biggest benefits of this program is that it’s almost exclusively presented online. This allowed many of my peers and me to continue full-time employment while pursuing the postgraduate degree.

As far as the work itself, many of the assignments were designed to use real-life application in addressing the topics being discussed. We had at least one formal block during our coursework that brought the students and the faculty face to face. This was a pivotal moment because it reinforced the bonds that were being developed through the online portal. I found great study partners who encouraged me to continue and be my best. I can honestly say that several of them have developed into not only colleagues, but true friends — I even enjoyed being a bridesmaid for one of them this summer.

One of the biggest challenges with pursuing the DAT is that the coursework was designed to allow students to continue working. That made time management one of the more difficult things to achieve. This is something most athletic trainers deal with anyway because of game and practice schedule changes, medical emergencies, administrative duties, and life away from work, but it was amplified by my academic work.

While obtaining a DAT was one of my most difficult undertakings, I feel accomplished and more prepared to treat my patients and continue to educate people on how they can benefit from athletic training. That being said, I think that pursuing a DAT is not something to take lightly. Before submitting applications, take a personal inventory. It is important to calculate your life plans that may include changes to your family dynamics, the overall condition of your health, and work or job assignments that could change in the short-term. These were my biggest challenges to completing the DAT, but with the support of God, my family, friends, classmates, and professors, I can say that it was the best choice I could have ever made.

The DAT degree was designed by us and for us. I am excited to see how it will continue to make our industry better.

Image by U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael Ellis.

Erin E. Hassler, DAT, MS, LAT, ATC, PES, is a Sports Medicine Consultant and Owner of the Sportz Factory in Houston. She can be reached at [email protected] or via her website: www.erinhassler.com.


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