Jul 13, 2018
Upholding Professional Values
Timothy Neal

An athletic trainer is beset with competing interests and pressures as they perform their professional duties. Ethical lines can become blurry when caring for patients, especially student-athletes during a competitive season. What can the athletic trainer do to protect their integrity and the well-being of their patients? The best place to turn to is the NATA Code of Ethics and the Board of Certification (BOC) Code of Professional Responsibility. Revised in 2016, the NATA Code of Ethics provides a guideline to the various, and sometimes precarious, situations and relationships the athletic trainer must navigate in their daily practice.

One of the hallmarks of a profession is a code of ethics. This establishes how the individual will adhere to the ethical standards set forth by the profession. The code of ethics is essentially a social “contract” that the profession enters into with the public. This contract establishes certain expectations that the public expects. Some of these include a guarantee of professional competence (as set forth by the BOC and state boards of athletic training), accountability (putting the athletic trainer at risk for loss of license or litigation if they do not follow established standards of care), and practicing with integrity and morality. The code of ethics is vital in two key areas: professional integrity and the protection of the patient’s long-term health and well-being.

The athletic trainer should adhere to their professional codes of ethics to protect their patient. We are often judged on getting a key player back for a big game, or how few players are on the injury list. But, in fact, we should be judged by the quality of the care provided.

The NATA Code of Ethics has four principles. These cover the integral elements of professional integrity: the primacy of the patient’s health and safety, adhering to laws affecting athletic training, promoting high standards in patient care, reducing any appearance of a conflict of interest in patient care. The BOC Code of Professional Responsibility addresses patient care, competency, professional responsibilities, research, social responsibility, and business practices. The athletic trainer should use both codes to establish their professional approach to their responsibilities and obligations.

It can be challenging for the athletic trainer who is providing care to competitive teams when an individual’s health takes precedence over team success. There have been athletic trainers relieved of their duties when not acquiescing to a coach or administrator’s wishes to have an injured athlete participate. These unfortunate situations, or the threat of such consequences, do occur.

However, the athletic trainer should adhere to their professional codes of ethics to protect their patient. We are often judged on getting a key player back for a big game, or how few players are on the injury list. But, in fact, we should be judged by the quality of the care provided, a key component in the athletic training codes of ethics.

Whenever a person does not adhere to a sense of ethics, law can come into play. For example, decades ago, “Please Do Not Litter” signs were everywhere, appealing to a person’s ethics to not throw trash on the ground. Yet, people continued to litter. Therefore, state laws were passed throughout the country to make littering punishable by a fine.

Similarly, if an athletic trainer neglects to follow state laws for concussion management of interscholastic athletes, or does not follow national standards of care for various conditions and injuries, litigation could result. All a plaintiff has to do is try to redress any damages as a result of not following standards.

The athletic trainer is encouraged to place the NATA Code of Ethics and the BOC Code of Professional Responsibility in their manuals, review them in an annually signed acknowledgement by staff, give them to direct reports, and post them in the athletic training facility. By posting these codes of ethics, patients can clearly see what the athletic training professional stands for in the performance of their duties.

The NATA Code of Ethics and the Board of Certification Code of Professional Responsibility are found at the following links:

https://www.nata.org/membership/about-membership/member-resources/code-of-ethics

http://www.bocatc.org/system/document_versions/versions/144/original/boc-standards-of-professional-practice-2018-20180305.pdf?1520264560

Image by Nick Youngson.

Timothy Neal, MS, AT, ATC, CCISM, is Assistant Professor and Program Director of Athletic Training Education at Concordia University Ann Arbor. Previously, he spent more than 30 years at Syracuse University, serving in a variety of sports medicine roles. Neal is also a member of the Ohio University Alumni Association Board of Directors. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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