Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Brad Swope

Sumner Regional Health Systems

By Patrick Bohn

Patrick Bohn is an Assistant Editor at Training & Conditioning. He can be reached at: [email protected].

Brad Swope, LAT, ATC, EMT-P, Athletic Trainer at Sumner Regional Health Systems and Station Camp High School in Gallatin, Tenn., has worn many hats during his 30-plus year career–from administrator to teacher to provider of care for athletes and police officers. In addition to covering more than 400 athletes at Station Camp on a daily basis, he is an athletic trainer for USA Roller Sports and volunteer athletic trainer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Swope began his career in 1984, working for his father at a family-owned sports medicine practice in Springboro, Ohio. In 1993, he moved to Tennessee and joined Baptist Sports Medicine in Nashville. He soon became Coordinator of Athletic Training Services and was responsible for supervising a staff of athletic trainers that provided coverage for area professional teams, college athletic departments, and high schools. During his tenure, he was named Clinical Athletic Trainer of the Year by the Tennessee Athletic Trainers’ Society.

In 2001, Swope became the Athletic Trainer at Volunteer State Community College, a position he held for six years while simultaneously working as the Director of Sumner Sports Medicine (a division of Sumner Regional Health Systems). At Sumner, he supervised a dozen athletic trainers who worked at high schools throughout the area.

After eight years at Sumner, Swope tried his hand as an account manager for a business consulting company, then spent two years as a high school teacher, instructing students interested in healthcare occupations. Finally, things came full circle when Swope returned to Sumner Regional–and the sidelines–last year.

When Swope isn’t providing coverage for high school athletes, roller athletes, or state troopers, he can be found officiating high school basketball games, going about his duties on the NATA Clinical and Emerging Practices Committee and as the Corporate Relations Chairman of the Tennessee Athletic Trainers’ Society, or volunteering in student ministry at his church. We caught up with Swope and talked to him about the role social media plays in his job, the key to providing coverage as the only athletic trainer at a high school, and the reason he volunteers his time with the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

T&C: How do you make yourself part of a high school’s community when you’re employed by an outside group?

Swope: It’s not going to happen by just treating student-athletes in the athletic training room during the school day and on the sidelines after school. You have to make yourself available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We have to remember that having an injury and not being able to play sports is potentially a major crisis for a high school student-athlete. We’re used to telling injured athletes they can’t play, but they may not have heard that before. So we can’t just tell them to call us only between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. If an athlete needs to meet me at 2 a.m. just to talk, I need to be there for them. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve done that, but it’s critical that the athletes know I’m willing to.

Additionally, I look for other ways to provide value to the community. For example, my son plays Little League baseball, and when I can’t attend the games, my wife will sometimes call me and say, “Someone on his team just got hurt. Can you come by and take a look at him?” And I always do.

Finally, one of the things I constantly tell young athletic trainers is to establish personal relationships with the coaches. Go see your school’s football coach during the off-season and talk about anything except football. Talk about your families and get to know him on that level. Do the same with your administrators as well. That way they’re getting to know you in a different context.

How do you handle being the only athletic trainer at Station Camp?

Balancing the schedules and needs for all the different teams is very difficult. But I have figured out that there are a lot of ways I can make things run smoothly and ensure that teams don’t feel ignored. For example, if there are soccer, baseball, and softball games going on at the same time, I can situate myself in a spot where I can see both the softball and baseball fields, and be at the soccer field in two minutes.

I also make sure all the sport coaches know I’m there for them, even if I’m not providing event coverage. I don’t think any high school golf coach expects an athletic trainer at one of his matches, but I make it clear to ours that I’m always there for his athletes, whether it’s seeing them right away if they get hurt, taking a heat measurement, or including him in a text message tree about inclement weather.

Is it challenging maintaining a work-life balance with that mentality?

Very much so. Sports schedules change constantly, and the athletic trainer is often the last to know if a game has been cancelled or rescheduled. I’ve learned you just have to roll with the punches or you’ll get burnt out. Today, I might spend time with my family for a few hours in the morning. Tomorrow, I might get some “me time” in the afternoon. My family is very supportive, and that helps quite a bit.

You’re an active user of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. What role does technology play in the athletic training profession?

On the positive side, it’s a valuable tool for gathering and disseminating information, especially if you’re the only athletic trainer at a school. I never thought I’d get involved with Facebook or Twitter, but the schools I’ve worked at have used them to communicate with the staff and make announcements. They’re also great ways to stay in touch with former athletes and fellow professionals.

However, on the flip side, I think an over-reliance on social media and technology can be extremely detrimental. The relationships you build talking with someone face to face are much different than the ones you establish through Facebook or even e-mail. I’m seeing this become an issue at the state association level. So many young athletic trainers balk at anything they can’t do online–they don’t see the value in going to meetings and connecting with people in person.

What is the benefit of going to state and national association meetings?

A lot of inexperienced athletic trainers see the significant costs associated with travel and gravitate away from meetings, especially now that we can get CEUs without leaving our desks. But I view the costs of going to these meeting as part of what you need to incur to gain experience. I think of who I’ll be able to meet and what I’ll be able to learn from the exhibits, presentations, or just informal conversations.

How did you get started as a volunteer athletic trainer with the Tennessee Highway Patrol?

This actually illustrates my point about the importance of attending meetings and making connections. In 2007, I was at the NATA Meeting and one of the presentations was on athletic trainers in public safety. Nancy Burke, who is a full-time athletic trainer with the Fairfax County police department in Virginia, was discussing her role there, and I was fascinated.

After the meeting, I spoke with my hospital administrator about the idea. At the same time, a student-athlete’s father, who was the captain of the local highway patrol, mentioned that their training center could use an athletic trainer. So we set up a meeting, and it took off from there. Currently, I work with them during their 18-week cadet school, a few hours a day, two to three times a week. It’s actually very similar to working at the high school–just replace the word “athlete” with “trooper.”

I think this is an incredibly valuable thing to do for many reasons. First, it saves the state money. And instead of an injured cadet going to the doctor, we can usually handle it in-house quickly. I’m proud to provide the service. These are the people who run toward trouble instead of away from it. They take care of us, so we need to take care of them.

What has it been like working with USA Roller Sports?

It’s been fantastic. The organization is under the Olympic umbrella, and essentially, everything you’re used to seeing ice skaters do, these athletes do on roller skates. I work with the artistic skating and hardball hockey teams. I’ve been able to travel all over the world with them and it is amazing working with that level of athlete.

I’ve also been able to take some of what I’ve learned working with the skaters and use it at the high school level. I see similar injuries at both levels: the artistic skaters get a lot of overuse injuries while the hockey players get hurt after being hit with a stick or ball. I’m able to talk to my student-athletes about how I’ve handled those injuries and how the athletes were able to overcome them, and that’s been helpful.

What is the biggest issue facing high school athletic trainers?

We need to make administrators understand the challenges we face when we’re stretched too thin. They have to know that we can’t effectively care for hundreds of student-athletes at one time. Colleges have slowly started to understand this, thanks in large part to the data that illustrates how many athletic trainers you need to handle a certain number of athletes. But high schools haven’t caught on. I know lots of schools are facing budget issues, but we have to make them understand it’s not for our benefit–it’s for their kids’ benefit.

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