Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Lisa Walker

Springville (Utah) High School

If you’ve got your eye on Springville, Utah as a career destination, it might be best to keep looking. That’s because Springville High School’s student-athletes are under the care of Athletic Trainer Lisa Walker, LAT, ATC, who has spent the last two decades growing her role in the field and accumulating honors.

Since taking over as Head Athletic Trainer for the Red Devils in 1993, Walker has expanded her resume significantly. In addition to her duties as the school’s sole athletic trainer, she teaches two courses at Springville, is a Clinical Instructor at Brigham Young University, and is President of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers’ Association, a post she has held since 2007.

The recipient of an NATA Athletic Trainer Service Award in 2011, Walker also played a key role in bringing licensure of athletic trainers to Utah in 2006. In this interview, she talks about supervising high school and college interns at Springville, developing good relationships with administrators, and her keys for success in educating the public about the athletic training profession.

How has your position at Springville evolved since you started?

When I arrived here, I was also working at a local physical therapy clinic. I would work at the clinic for the first part of the day and then come to the high school around 2 p.m. But I realized it would be much better for everyone if I were on campus all day, teaching students as well as providing care. I’ve been a Red Cross instructor since 1993, so teaching courses on emergency medical services and sports medicine was an easy fit.

Being at the school all day helps me develop good relationships with athletes, coaches, and administrators. Also, I think it’s incredibly important to have more students at the high school level with first responder skills. I teach four to five sections of these courses and I certify over 100 students in CPR every year.

How do you balance working as an athletic trainer with teaching?

The administration at Springville is very helpful in that regard. They make sure I’m not scheduled to teach the first hour of the day, which is incredibly beneficial if I’ve had to work late covering a game the night before.

You have student interns from Springville and BYU work in the athletic training room with you. What are their duties?

Because I’m providing coverage to so many teams, I’ll often have my high school interns do field set up–making sure the teams each have their medical bags, ice, and paperwork–and then watch the games. They are my eyes and ears. If an athlete gets hurt, an intern calls me on my cell phone and I can go directly to the game and not have to worry about remembering to bring something with me to the site.

For my college interns in the athletic training room, responsibilities vary based on how far along the student is in their coursework. For example, if they’re brand new, I want them to focus on observing me. If they’re more experienced, I supervise them doing an evaluation while the high school student takes notes.

How has your role as President of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers’ Association helped your career?

One thing about working at the high school level is that you tend to work alone, which is a challenge. Getting involved with a regional association like this is a great networking tool. You have to be a people person if you’re going to be an athletic trainer, and the association allows me the chance to meet people all over the country.

Additionally, seeing the research and legislation that comes through the Association has made me so much better at my job. It doesn’t allow me to get stuck in a rut because I can see changes and advancements being made first-hand.

You’re the Director of Weight Management for Wrestling at the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA). What are your responsibilities?

When it was announced that the sport would be implementing hydration and body fat guidelines, I worked with the UHSAA to make sure the testing was reliable and efficient. I helped establish test sites and ensured there were other athletic trainers present to serve as master assessors during testing. Over the course of a two-day period, all across the state, we test almost all the wrestlers and establish their weight classes for the season.

How has the program been received?

When the NFHS first talked about implementing these guidelines, I was battling with coaches for hours on end. A lot of wrestling coaches want to control the weight their wrestlers compete at, but with the new rules, if the calculator says a wrestler can’t move to a certain class, there is nothing the coach can do. It was a tough adjustment for them to make.

Now though, I get a lot of positive feedback. Coaches tell me they no longer have to worry about a wrestler drastically cutting weight and having it affect their health to the point that their grades suffer. And parents tell me, “I used to dread wrestling season, but it’s better now because I no longer have to fight with my child to get them to eat.” I think it’s led to a better quality of life for wrestlers.

What are the biggest issues facing athletic training today?

One is educating the public about who we are. Many people still equate the title “athletic trainer” to “personal trainer.” We need to keep working to get rid of that misconception.

We also need to address the staffing issue, and try to make sure that athletes at the secondary school level have access to an athletic trainer. I know schools are cutting budgets and don’t always have the money to make new hires, but I struggle with that mindset. To me, if a school can afford to have an athletic program, one of its priorities needs to be taking care of those athletes and ensuring that someone who is medically trained is there to help prevent injuries and assist injured athletes in their recovery.

How can athletic trainers educate people about what they do?

So often, we tell people what we do, but we need to show them as well. For example, in December I met with a local recreational sports group and spoke about concussions. Also, Springville’s booster club puts out an athletic newsletter three times a year, and I write a short article in each one about a medical topic, like why wearing a mouthguard is important.

When you do things like that, the public learns that you’re an expert and a resource. It’s easy for people to Google a topic and think they’ve learned something, but if you’re an active participant in teaching them about sports medicine, they’ll understand the depth of your knowledge and the importance of your role.

You were instrumental in helping pass legislation requiring all athletic trainers in Utah to be licensed. What went into getting the law passed?

It started at the grassroots level. We tried to educate the public and asked community members to reach out to the representatives on Capitol Hill. By doing that, we got the attention of key legislators and educated them on our goals. We also met with members of the Utah Medical Association and Utah Physical Therapy Association to make sure they were aware of what we wanted to do. That helped us avoid the public fights that sometimes accompany these movements because someone thinks someone else is trying to take their job away.

What are the keys to striking a good work-life balance?

A crucial aspect is support from your family. I think a lot of burnout in this profession happens because athletic trainers work long hours and their families make them feel guilty about it. You need to explain to your family why you’re passionate about what you do, and that you’re in this profession because you want to help people. Having them come to games you’re working can help them see that as well.

Also, look for ways your administration can help. For example, my children were athletes here and they often had games at the same time I was covering another team. My administration was willing to let me get the team I was covering ready for their game, leave to watch my children play, and then return to the other team. Having that kind of support makes it easier.

How can athletic trainers develop good relationships with administrators and coaches? You’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile, and that often means working on things you aren’t required to do. My volunteer efforts in the community to do concussion education was something my administrators saw and appreciated. It sent the message that I am an athletic trainer because I love what I do.

As for working with coaches, take the initiative and ask if you can host a coaches meeting so they’re aware of who you are and what you do. It will make your job easier. My coaches respect me, and even if I’m not there, they will immediately pull an injured athlete from a game and let me know about an injury. If you just duck into the athletic training room every day and wait for athletes to come to you, coaches and administrators will perceive you as a person who doesn’t want to be there.

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