Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Meg Frens

Assistant Athletic Trainer, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology Hope College

As a teenager in Osseo, Mich., Meg Frens, MS, ATC, dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But after meeting Rich Ray, EdD, ATC, while attending a science camp at Hope College in the summer of 1991, she changed her mind.

Frens matriculated at Hope the next year, and after earning her bachelor’s degree in 1996, she went on to obtain a master’s degree from Indiana University. She spent a year as Assistant Athletic Trainer at Slippery Rock University before returning to Hope as an Athletic Trainer and Visiting Instructor of Kinesiology.

In August 2000, she left to become an Assistant Professor of Athletic Training at the University of New England, only to rejoin the Hope staff in the summer of 2002 as Assistant Athletic Trainer and Assistant Professor of Kinesiology. In the six and a half years since, she’s taught in the school’s athletic training education program, supervised clinical rotations, and provided care for the NCAA Division III school’s 18 men’s and women’s varsity teams. She’s also learned to balance work and home, where she and her husband are raising a five-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter.

Last fall, when Head Athletic Trainer Kirk Brumels went on sabbatical, Frens added Interim Head Athletic Trainer to her title–just weeks before Hope experienced the largest norovirus outbreak in state history. In this interview, Frens talks about her different roles on campus, her advice for today’s students, and the challenges of juggling career and family.

T&C: What was the athletic training education program like when you arrived at Hope as an undergraduate?

Frens: I think there were 16 of us in the program, with one athletic trainer. It was still an internship program, and I only had two formal athletic training classes before my senior year, when the department added an administration class.

A lot has changed since then, all for the better. The number of academic courses has grown substantially. It has become a fully accredited program, and there are 11 required classes for the athletic training major, plus required courses in the kinesiology department.

What was the most important component of your undergraduate education?

The clinical part, which is what I emphasize to my students now. I think 80 percent of what you actually retain in an athletic training education program comes from the clinical experience–something you did with your hands or witnessed with your eyes during a rotation.

What was it like to come back to work at your alma mater?

When I first came to Hope in the summer after my junior year of high school, I didn’t even know what an athletic trainer was. But I thought sports medicine sounded cool, so I signed up for an intensive class, which is how I met [Dean of Social Studies and former Kinesiology Department Chair] Rich Ray.

All these years later, having Rich as a mentor and working with him on a chapter in a textbook has been an incredible privilege. I always knew I wanted to come back to this type of setting, so to end up at Hope has been very special. This is where I grew up, figured out who I wanted to be, and really began to establish myself.

It’s also a wonderful place to work. Hope College has been very good to me by making this job as flexible as possible. After just one year, I was allowed to start working three-quarter time to spend more time with my family.

How did you make the transition to Interim Head Athletic Trainer?

I’ve always been a team player, so I talked frequently with my co-workers and we made decisions together. I also wanted them to know I felt responsible for everything in the athletic training room and that it was my job to make sure athletes were taken care of.

On some level, taking charge was very stressful, and I got a little intense at times. Given the opportunity to do it again, I’d delegate more, which would take away some of the pressure.

What was the biggest challenge of the role?

There are many administrative duties, and they take time to figure out. Before Kirk left, he instructed me on some of the details and my colleagues were very helpful, as were the coaches. Everyone understood I was still learning the ropes.

The life-work balance was probably an even bigger challenge. I had to take a lot of work home–after my kids went to bed, I was often grading papers, writing tests, and preparing for class.

What have you learned about balancing work and family?

I’ve learned that my family has to come first. But I know they sacrifice a lot–when I have to be at work for six or seven hours on a Saturday, that’s hard for them. So I try to balance things as best I can, because I really enjoy what I do here. Everyone at Hope understands that my children are my priority, and when I need time to take care of them, I have to take it.

Striking a balance is especially hard during the fall, when I’m here at least 50 hours a week, even though I’m working three-quarter time. My family understands fall is not an easy time for mommy, and thankfully, my husband has always been absolutely fabulous about it. We have excellent childcare, and we prioritize like crazy, which is how we make it work. And when I’m home on the weekends, we make the most of our time together.

The norovirus typically results in 48 hours of fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. At Hope, it infected more than 500 people last fall, causing administrators to shut down the school for five days and cancel Parents Weekend. What was it like to deal with that?

Given the intensity of the outbreak, I think we did well. That Thursday, athletes started coming to see us, and at first we thought it might be food poisoning. When I called the health clinic, we realized a lot of people on campus were getting sick. So we immediately went into anti-infection mode, being extra vigilant about hand washing, proper hygiene, and sending anyone home who was feeling ill. By Friday, we knew there might be close to 500 people infected, and closing school was clearly the best way to stop the spread.

Did you change anything in your protocols?

We’ve always followed good hygiene in the athletic training room, cleaning the whirlpool after each treatment, washing our hands between patients, and disinfecting our equipment daily. As long as you’re taking those measures, you can limit the spread of disease. But this was one of those viruses that if you came into contact with it, it was going to get you.

What types of rehabs are the hardest?

A difficult rehab is like a good puzzle. You have to pick the problem apart and look at it from a lot of different angles. The most challenging situations are when student-athletes come in with chronic conditions. It’s hard to know how, when, or why the trouble started. Those cases take a little more effort, and you have to spend more time talking, measuring, and observing before you can make a good clinical assessment.

How do you intertwine your teaching with hands-on athletic training?

As a teacher, I get to have the athletic training room as my own daily case study. In the clinical setting, I can tell my students, “Here’s an example of what we talked about in class two days ago.” And in the classroom, I can use everything we’ve done in the athletic training room as a teaching opportunity.

You never know what kind of case is going to walk through the door. Just today, an athlete had a latissimus dorsi strain with swelling in the shoulder, which is rare unless there’s been a direct contusion. I talked about the injury with my students in class.

What do you tell athletic training students about the future of the profession?

That it’s strong. That there will always be physically active people who need the kind of care we’re uniquely qualified to provide. That our training allows us to adapt to a lot of different environments. I tell them, “You need to figure out where you want to be and work hard to get there.” That’s what I did. I knew I wanted to teach in a college setting and I looked for those opportunities every time I did a job search.

Athletic training students also need to be aware of the challenges of balancing work and life. If raising a family is important, you need to find a work environment that allows you that flexibility. If you don’t, you’re going to have to choose between the two. I have lots of friends from my undergraduate and graduate days who decided not to become athletic trainers or are no longer in the profession, and I can’t blame them. It’s not easy to find the kind of situation I have here at Hope. I have my dream job, and I’m lucky I can say that.

Are you involved in any professional organizations?

I’m a member of the NATA, the Michigan Athletic Trainers’ Society (MATS), and the Great Lakes Athletic Trainers Association (GLATA). I’ve presented at MATS and GLATA meetings, and I’m currently on the GLATA Education Committee. It’s essential for networking. The number of people you meet by getting involved in an organization like GLATA is amazing. I really enjoy being part of the committee and discussing topics of interest to bring to our membership.

It has been a lot of work, but it’s good work, and I’m happy to contribute to our profession. Every athletic trainer should do something for either the local, state, regional, or national organization, because the people you meet and the things you learn are enormously helpful.

What’s the biggest issue Michigan athletic trainers are working on right now?

We’ve had some incredible people working very hard to get licensure passed in this state, and it’s expected to be enacted in 2010. I am so thankful for those people, and every athletic trainer in the state of Michigan owes them a huge debt of gratitude for what they’ve done for the profession of athletic training–not just in our state, but nationally as well.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

Working with people. Every day, there’s a challenge on an interpersonal level. But at the same time, having those conversations is probably the best part of the job. A lack of communication is often the biggest hurdle in interpersonal relationships, so if you can create open lines of communication that foster understanding, the problems go away.

What are your goals?

I want to be a good role model for our students, which means balancing life and work, keeping my skills current, and enjoying what I’m doing all the time. It also means grabbing every opportunity I have to learn something new, which I do by reading, going to conferences, and talking to other athletic trainers. I’m always trying to find out more, because when you stop asking questions, you stop learning. And that’s not my intention–ever.

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