Jan 29, 2015
‘Tis the Season

… to get ahead. Are you ready to make the most of your upcoming time off?

By Mike Phelps

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

For many college students, winter break is a perfect time to go home, see family, reconnect with old friends, and just relax. But for athletic training students, this hiatus between semesters can be an opportunity to jump-start your career. With a little planning, you may be able to secure a short internship, shadow an athletic trainer, or gain experience through volunteer work.

“A couple weeks at home is probably plenty of time to be with your family–maybe too much,” jokes Sally Perkins, ATC, Athletic Training Program Director at Marist College. “You’ve still got a week or two to get some career-related experience. You may be able to shadow an orthopedist and see surgeries, or work in a physical therapy clinic with an athletic trainer. Even if it’s only for 10 hours, this can be valuable training.”

Chris Geiser, MS, PT, LAT, ATC, Athletic Training Program Director at Marquette University, finds that students who take advantage of these opportunities are often more confident in their abilities when they return. “We commonly hear students say, ‘I really knew more than I thought I did,'” Geiser says. “If you find a setting where you can keep your brain going over winter break, that will help you a great deal in the long run, because the learning process doesn’t occur all at once.”

And while many students may want to take the winter break to recharge their batteries after a long, difficult fall semester, doing some work in the field can be just as invigorating. “Most people go into athletic training because they like working hands-on with people,” Geiser says. “So being in the sports-medicine environment over break can remind you that, ‘Yeah, I do still like this even though the classes are sometimes a drag and I have 18 credits waiting for me when I get back.'”

For freshmen, finding paid work is a long shot, but volunteering or shadowing an athletic trainer in your hometown are great ideas. “For first-year students, it’s a nice time to get some experience,” says Geiser. “And it’s also an important chance to really make sure you’re in the right field. If you are having serious reservations about athletic training, it’s much better to figure that out now than to wait until your third or fourth year in a program.”

At Marist, freshmen often use winter break to work toward completing their required 100 observation hours. “They can go to their high school athletic trainer, a clinic, or maybe even a gym and do some of those hours to take advantage of this free time,” Perkins says. “I’ve found it helps them remember what they learned during the semester. Otherwise, they end up having to do a lot of review once classes begin again.”

For upperclassmen, winter break is ideal for exploring different areas of the profession. “A junior or senior who’s trying to figure out exactly what he or she wants to do can take a look at something new,” says J.C. Andersen, PhD, PT, ATC, SCS, Athletic Training Program Director at the University of Tampa. “Someone can get additional insight into what it’s like to be a physician extender, or to work in a high school.”

Perkins feels it’s also a critical time to broaden your perspective. “The more settings you observe or work in, the more you experience people from different backgrounds with different philosophies,” she says. “It leads to learning new techniques, understanding various rehabilitation programs, and working with a variety of athletes of different genders, age groups, and populations. There are some details of treating specific problems that we can’t really teach in class, and it’s a great time to learn about those things.”

Upperclassmen may also need more experience working on the front lines. Andersen says there are often volleyball tournaments in the Tampa area during his school’s winter break, and he recommends that his students volunteer as first responders. “Class is really just practice,” Andersen says. “You learn how and when to use your skills, but having real experiences is critical.”

To secure an internship, shadowing assignment, or any other opportunity during winter break, Geiser suggests students use any contacts they already have, network to make new contacts, or even open the phone book to cold-call clinics. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” he says. “Most are willing to help.”

Students can also speak with their professors about finding contacts or accessing the university’s alumni network. “We use our alums a lot,” says Perkins. “They’re very helpful, and we really encourage our students to take advantage of their knowledge and their work sites.”

Even though it requires some effort, securing opportunities during winter break now could ultimately help you land that first job. It takes more than a degree to stand out in a pile of resumes. “When hiring, employers look for what experiences you’ve had, not just how you performed in school,” says Andersen. “What have you done besides what was required? Anything that adds to the quality of your resume will give you an edge. It also gives you something to talk about in an interview.”

“Obviously, it’s nice to either relax or make money over break,” Geiser says. “But if you’re willing to work on a volunteer basis, that might go a long way toward getting a job recommendation or other opportunity.

“Most people get where they are by knowing people,” he continues. “In this line of work, you don’t have to do much job hunting if you’re a hard worker. The more contacts you make, the more opportunities will find you.

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