Jan 29, 2015
Pat Lamboni, Salisbury University

In 2004-05, Salisbury University captured two NCAA Division III national championships, took second in two others, and posted its best finish in the NACDA Directors’ Cup ever. Reaching 11th place, Salisbury scored its fifth top 20 Directors’ Cup finish in the last six years. Some of the credit for that success goes to Head Athletic Trainer Pat Lamboni, MEd, ATC, and his staff.

Lamboni arrived at Salisbury as a student in 1976, receiving a bachelors degree in 1978 and his masters degree in 1980. After two years as Head Athletic Trainer at Catholic University, he rejoined Salisbury as Head Athletic Trainer. In the 23 years since, Lamboni has expanded the athletic training room, helped guide the school’s transition to an accredited educational program, and overseen a sports medicine operation that has grown to 12 staff members serving close to 500 student-athletes.

In June 2004, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association named Lamboni a Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer, and in May 2005, he was part of the Maryland Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame’s inaugural class. In this interview, Lamboni talks about building effective relationships with coaches, keeping up with the politics of the profession, and finding a balance between work and family.

T&C: Salisbury had a great year in 2004-05. How does your staff play a part in the athletic teams’ success?

Lamboni: The first part is the work ethic of our staff. We think that treating athletes three or four times a day is the best way to get them healthy. Yes, it takes some sacrifice, but we believe in working hard. We open the athletic training room at seven in the morning, and we close when the last athlete walks out of here, which is sometimes eight at night.

Second, we have tremendous support from our team physicians, who are always available when we need them. That means we’re able to start working on injured athletes as soon as possible. Third, we have a great relationship with the coaching staff. We’re adamant about our treatment schedule, and if athletes aren’t there, the coaches back us up, telling them, “If you miss a treatment, you’re going to suffer the consequences, just as if you’d missed a practice.”

How do you establish relationships like that with your coaches?

Every one of our coaches has a strong ego and is very win-oriented—that’s why they’re so successful. But they’re well aware that our athletic training staff is the same way. We don’t open the athletic training room when it’s convenient for us, we open when it’s convenient for the athletes. If we didn’t do treatments at seven in the morning, we might not be able to treat those athletes until after practice, and the coaches appreciate that we work so hard. If they have any questions, they know they can come to the athletic training room and talk with us right away.

They are also very good about allowing our athletic training students to travel with their teams. For instance, with football, I usually take four or five students and a graduate assistant, and the coach always asks, “Do you think that’s enough?” That’s very unique, and it gives our athletic training students the feeling of being an important part of the team.

How do you keep your staff working together?

We have a staff meeting every Monday, when we sit down and plan our calendar for the next two weeks. One thing that’s great about Salisbury is that the academic program director and the coordinator of clinical education are at those meetings, and if we get into a jam on coverage, one of them will slide over to help us. Then on Friday mornings, we meet as a full staff with all the athletic training students. We go over the schedule again, talk about meetings and club activities, and discuss the issues that students need to be aware of, both in the department and in the profession.

What should athletic trainers do to keep up with developments in the profession?

We have to be aware of what’s going on at the NATA and the NATA-BOC, and become actively involved in the political process. For example, the lawsuit with the CMS is going to affect athletic trainers for years to come. [The NATA has filed suit to prevent the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from suspending reimbursement for treatment by athletic trainers.] Athletic trainers can’t live with their heads in the sand, particularly those who work in colleges and universities and think their jobs are safe. When the new rules first came out, and the NATA put out a call for athletic trainers to respond, between 400 and 500 letters were sent from Salisbury staff, students, and parents. If every university in the country had done that, can you imagine how many letters there would have been?

The future of the profession hinges on this decision. If these rules go through, athletic training is going to become unsettled. But if we can defeat this process and continue to duly accredit athletic trainers as legitimate allied health professional caregivers, the future is very bright. We will be able to move into all types of situations where we can work cooperatively with physicians, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and hand therapists, enhancing those professions to take better care of their patients.

What did you learn by going through the accreditation process?

I used to be one of those old internship guys who said, “Accreditation is going to be the worst thing that ever happened to athletic training.” Well, I hate to admit this, but I’ve come full circle. I’m firmly convinced that accreditation is tremendously important in today’s job market. Credentialing of athletic trainers, state licensing of athletic trainers, and gaining academic and professional recognition is of the utmost importance for the growth of the profession.

We had a very good internship program here at Salisbury, and since we’ve become accredited, our program has become even better, simply because we’re now recognized academically. Accreditation has opened a lot of doors for our students—plus, it’s given us a system of checks and balances for running the program, which is important. Accreditation has given us a better road map to produce athletic trainers.

But we can’t lose sight of athletic training as a service profession. We are here to treat athletes and work cooperatively with the athletic staff for the betterment of the student-athlete, and I think that focus can sometimes be lost in the shuffle. The athlete should be the center point, the person we’re working for and helping get better.

What’s your most memorable rehab?

We had a defensive back who injured his long thoracic nerve, which controls the mobility of the scapula. We had an orthopedic consult, went through all the necessary testing, saw a neurosurgeon, put a plan together, designed a rehab protocol, came up with a special brace, and got him back for a playoff game—all in about three weeks.

But the rehabs that are even more memorable are the ones where I’ve had to tell an athlete that he or she can’t play anymore. The hardest thing to do is to sit there and say, “I’m sorry. We’ve done everything we can for you.”

We had a starting quarterback, who’d had a series of minor concussions. Then, two weeks before a big game against our state rival, he had another fairly significant one. When we sat down, he looked me in the eye and said, “Pat, what would you do if you were me? I really respect you and I want your opinion.” We went over every possible scenario, and he decided not to play.

I don’t remember if we won the game or not—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that after he graduated, he came and said, “I wanted to play in that game in the worst way. But we made the right decision.” I can live on that memory for the rest of my life.

What are your goals for the program at Salisbury?

I would love to have a full-fledged sports medicine clinic on campus that would enhance the educational process for our athletic training students and expand our services to the entire campus community. One of these days we’ll get it, which will improve our athletic training program, because 65 percent of today’s students are not getting jobs in a traditional athletic training room.

I want to keep reaching out to our athletic training alumni. We have a newsletter that goes out twice a year to inform them of what’s going on here and encourage them to support our program. We now have a scholarship endowment, called the Hunter Smith Endowment, named after the founder of athletic training here at Salisbury, which we’ll start giving away next spring. Our goal was to raise $40,000, and by now, we’ve raised more than $60,000. So we’re really excited about that.

It’s important to keep our alumni actively involved in the growth of the program. Over the past 23 years, we’ve had between 175 and 200 graduates, and at our latest reunion, we had about 110 people attend. Alumni support is very strong, and the newsletter helps keep it that way.

What are the advantages of staying in one place for 23 years?

My family is grounded, they’re happy, and they’re able to develop long-term friendships. That’s a real advantage. I’ve been offered other jobs, but when it came down to it, I didn’t think I could do any better than I’m doing right here. I’ve got a cooperative administration. I’ve got tremendous coaches to work with. Who else could say they went to nine playoff games last year? Who else could say they won two national championships? That’s pretty successful, and success keeps us working hard to become even better.

In everything I do, I am focused on trying to make our kids the best they can be, and make sure I’m a good father and husband, which is very important. In this profession, the hardest thing to do is get all those pieces to fit together. When I was inducted into the Maryland Hall of Fame, all those thoughts came to me about how lucky I am to be at an institution like Salisbury University and to have a family that’s supportive of what I do.

What can athletic trainers do to balance work and family?

Include your family in what you’re doing and give them the opportunity to be as involved as they want. Make them feel like they’re a part of what you’re trying to accomplish.

I have three daughters, who are 16, 15, and 11 years old. They all play sports, and I try to help coach their teams. Even though I have a busy schedule, I make time to be there for them. When they have field days, I supply the ice and water—that way, even if it’s not a lot, at least I’m helping. I’ve taken my daughters everywhere: to athletic training rooms, national championship games, locker rooms, down on the field with the football team.

It’s tough to find a balance, because I’ve got 500 kids to take care of at school, too. But if you take a team approach with your family, it works out a lot better.

In all my years here, I’ve never been questioned about taking time to do something with my family. I may have a graduate assistant cover an afternoon practice so I can watch one of my girls play a game. The GAs are certified athletic trainers, and I have to trust that they know what they’re doing.

When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was flabbergasted, particularly by being in the inaugural class. I hope my athletes remember me, and I hope people in the profession remember me, because I try to do the best I can. But I can’t let my daughters forget me. They have to know how much my wife and I love them, because that’s why we decided to have a family. And I don’t want them to think I wasn’t there for them.

PROFILE: Pat Lamboni

  • Head Athletic Trainer, Salisbury University
  • BA, Salisbury, 1978
  • MS, Salisbury, 1980
  • First job: Head Athletic Trainer, Catholic University
  • Honors: NATA Most Distinguished Athletic Trainer, Maryland Athletic Trainers’ Association Hall of Fame

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