Jan 29, 2015
Q&A with Scott Byrd

Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center Gatlinburg-Pittman High School

It’s been said that home is where the heart is. For Scott Byrd, LAT, ATC, that has meant staying in his home state of Tennessee.

Currently the Supervisor of Sports Medicine, Wellness, and Fitness at Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center in Tennessee and Head Athletic Trainer at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, Byrd attended high school and college in Tennessee, graduating from Carson-Newman College in 1993. Since then, he has worked for three clinics and one college in the Volunteer state, and provided coverage for multiple high schools.

After beginning his career as a staff athletic trainer at the Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic, Byrd became Head Athletic Trainer at Walters State Community College in 1997. From there, he moved to the Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge, and finally to Fort Sanders in Sevierville. By 2001, Byrd had created and now continues to oversee the Center’s Sevier County Sports Medicine Program, coordinating athletic training coverage for all four high schools in the county.

Byrd is currently Vice President of the Tennessee Athletic Trainer’s Society (TATS), an NATA approved clinical instructor, and an NATA Board of Certification approved examiner. He was recently honored as the 2007 Southeast Athletic Trainers’ Association (SEATA) High School Athletic Trainer of the Year, and has previously been named the SEATA Clinic/Industrial/Corporate Athletic Trainer of the Year, and the TATS Joe Worden Clinic/Professional Athletic Trainer of the Year.

In this interview, Byrd talks about working with high school-age athletes, starting a rural clinic-based high school coverage program, and the challenges of hiring new staff.

T&C: What do you like about working at the high school level?

Byrd: I’ve always felt there is an unmet need for athletic training coverage in the secondary school setting, especially at smaller high schools in rural areas–those kids are just as important and need the same assistance as kids at big city schools. In fact, there’s often even more of a need since many rural families don’t have the best insurance and often can’t afford quality healthcare. As secondary school athletic trainers, we can bring the healthcare to those kids.

Do you ever think about working at a college again?

I have nothing against the college setting, but I feel like being at the high school level allows more opportunities to make a difference in kids’ lives. I get a sense of satisfaction from working with high school kids that I don’t get from college kids. I think many college student-athletes just expect athletic training services and take them for granted. High school-age athletes seem to better appreciate what I do for them.

I also have an easier time developing good relationships with high school kids. When I evaluate an athlete, I walk them step-by-step through what I’m doing, and just when I’m sure they aren’t listening or paying attention to what I’m doing, I’ll notice them watching me while I work with another athlete or hear them tell a teammate about the drawer test I did on their ankle.

Several of my former patients have gone into the allied healthcare profession–as athletic trainers, physical therapists, doctors, and even an aspiring orthopedic surgeon. It has been very satisfying for me to know that I made a difference in those kids’ lives.

At Walters State, you pushed for contracting the college to provide injury consultation to a local high school. What did you learn during the negotiating process?

Working to get that contract really helped me in an area I didn’t think I needed any schooling in: county politics. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “working the system,” but sometimes it’s true that who you know is just as important as what you know. The high school that Walters State contracted with was one I had covered games for over a period of years, and if I hadn’t had that relationship, I’m not sure they would have been interested. I learned them you should never miss an opportunity to meet someone new in town–you never know if you’ll be asking them for a favor someday.

How did you get involved with starting the Sevier County Sports Medicine Program?

Back in 1997, when I was providing game-night football coverage as a staff member at the Knoxville Orthopedic Clinic, I was sitting with the superintendent of schools in Sevier County. We started chatting about the game, then we talked about the athletic training profession and the lack of coverage at the high school level. I asked him, “Have you ever thought about starting a program that would fulfill the needs of all your schools’ athletes? Not just your starting quarterback, but also your freshman track athletes and cheerleaders?” I never really got a straight answer that night, but I think it planted a seed.

Then in 1999 when I started working at Fort Sanders, the superintendent and the hospital administrator here brought me in and told me they wanted to start a program. It took some time, but in 2001 we signed a contract. They had me draw up the proposal from scratch. I had to figure out how many athletic trainers we’d need, how many hours of coverage, pay, everything. I told them what I thought would be ideal. I had an opportunity a lot of people dream about because I had support not just from the school system, but the hospital administration, too. When everybody involved wants the program just as bad as you do, putting it together is a lot of fun.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a supervisor?

Hiring good people. I hire the athletic trainers who provide coverage for the Sevier County schools, and it’s not easy. I’ve had several people come in from out-of-state, then leave shortly thereafter for more money elsewhere. The cost of living here is lower than most cities, so the market base salary is also lower. And unfortunately, the high dollar amounts available elsewhere seem to draw people away. You can live comfortably here for the market salary, but I’ve had people leave for $5,000 more than I’ve offered them even though it will cost them an extra $7,000 to live in that area.

I get phone calls all the time from recent athletic training graduates, and they’re not bashful about asking for a starting salary that matches those of people who have been here for 10 years. I know this is tough to say in today’s marketplace, but ultimately I want staff members who aren’t in it for the money. I want athletic trainers who genuinely care about the kids and the services we provide them.

What is your advice on working with parents and coaches at the high school level?

I’m a parent myself, and I’ve also been a coach and an athlete, so I’ve had all the different perspectives on athletic injuries, and that’s helped me to really understand each person’s point of view. When talking with a parent, I pretend their child is my own child and tell them that he or she is more important to me than a statistic on a chart. If the parent can see that I care about their child, they will trust me.

When working with coaches, it’s important to be very confident. All the coach wants to know is how soon he or she can expect the player back on the field. If I’m not confident in saying that the athlete cannot return to the field at a particular time, the coach won’t trust my diagnosis.

With both parents and coaches–and of course athletes–communication is critical. You have to be able to communicate effectively with everyone for people to have confidence in you.

What advice would you pass on to athletic trainers new to the workforce?

Don’t ever lose an opportunity to learn something new–even if it’s something you may not think is even remotely related to what you want to do career-wise. In my position, I’ve had to be everything from an athletic trainer to a counselor to an educator to a mechanic. It’s when you think you know everything that people pass you by.

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