Jan 29, 2015
Why Be Certified?

Rod Walters has spent 28 years in college athletics, including serving as Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine at the University of South Carolina for 16 years and as Head Athletic Trainer at Appalachian State University for 11 years. A 2005 inductee into the NATA Hall of Fame, Walters consults on athletic training services and professional development seminars. In the following Q&A, Dr. Walters discusses what certification means to the athletic training profession.

What sets athletic training apart from the sports medicine field?

RW: Athletic training, one part of sports medicine, and of course, sports medicine is an umbrella and athletic training is one aspect. We work very closely hand-in-hand with sports physicians and other allied health professionals to provide a sports medicine service.

How has sports medicine evolved over the years and how has athletic training adapted to these changes?

RW: I think that as players become bigger, faster, stronger, they train harder and train year-round now, so the evolution of physical training and conditioning of athletes has certainly changed. Consequently, the diagnostics testing today are certainly better than years ago, and we’re identifying more injuries because of the concerns. We’re trying to do a better job of effectively treat these athletes and facilitate their safety return to activity. So I think there’s a lot of concern and interest in that area.

I’ve always said, did high-ankle sprain just all of a sudden starting happening in the mid-’90s? No, we just did a better job of identifying. Do we think ACLs just started tearing in the ’80s? No, we just did a better job of identifying. So injuries have been happening; we’re just doing a better job of identifying and understanding how to better managing these things.

I think as technology moves along, we certainly have come up with new techniques and use products to apply. So, technology is a great thing. Technology leads to further developments in education and rehab and return to play.

What is it about being certified that let’s the athletes, coaching staff, and administrators know athletic trainers are constantly evaluating these changes in the sports medicine field?

RW: I’m going to turn that question around: Why do we have certification? What is the number-one goal of certification? Why does the government allow certification? It is to protect the public. Anytime we have any type of credentialing process, all of this is to protect the public. That is the one thing we have to look at: Are we effectively protecting the public? Looking at athletic training services, we certainly try do that.

Whenever a person goes to become certified, it simply means that person has only met the minimal expectations; they are at the floor of their profession. So many times when people come right out of school, they think, ‘So why do I need to be certified? I’m on top of the world.’ Well, no. It only means you’ve just met minimal expectations.

We have to continue to be involved, to further our continuing education [to meet those higher expectations of protecting the public], and to make sure we maintain safe situations in our schools and in our athletic training field.

How does attending national conferences, professional development seminars, and social networking workshops add to the continuing education aspect of athletic training?

RW: I think there is no way today that we can say all education takes place in the classroom. The one thing I thought throughout my years in athletic training – and I’ve worked in a lot of institutions – and I can tell you, the students heard all about the theories of athletic training in the classroom, and then when they came into the clinic setting, the practical part of the curriculum, and actually saw the applications of those theories, that’s when they were reinforced about their studies.

How important is that? It’s important to have that foundation formed in the classroom. It’s important to have those theories developed. But at the same time today, we’re seeing athletic trainers taking part in the continuing education to maintain that reinforcement of their earlier studies.

As far as the social networking, people are realizing education is changing. I put on 10 seminars a summer and have sponsors who come on board. The reason why I do this is because it’s meeting the needs of the athletic training people. As administrators, we have evaluating what we’re doing to meet our own profession’s needs today.

How do you address these topics and concerns young professionals and student-athletic trainer may have as they prepare to enter the industry, especially when it comes to the emphasis of health care administration and specializing within the athletic training field?

RW:I think we’ve got to have focus on what we’re doing. …We have to have long-term planning, strong leadership, ranges of available options to meet their concerns, and most importantly, keep our principles as a profession in line. …I think we have to be ready to meet young professionals needs, career-wise and personal. We have to be attentive at this ‘involved, evolve, and resolve’ initiative, and at the same time, we’ve got to have some guiding principles.

It’s kind of like disciple. You can love your children all the time, but people know it’s not all fun all the time. You may love your job, but there are times when you just have to strap down to the desk and get your work or assignment done. Athletic training is really fun, but we are responsible for some really serious decisions.

…I think formal education is good, and that is one thing I think athletic training has successfully addressed. I was a proponent back in the days when we were physical education majors. Those people had good education because they were trained about strength and conditioning and in exercise physiology, which I thought were great scientific cornerstones for what were doing as athletic trainers. And I felt many times as athletic trainers we may have had a better education for rehabilitation and the background of some of the other allied health professions.

With a well-rounded program, though, what you have to realize is there are certification for specialty areas that one may be interested in studying, such as psychology, or a really specific specialty such as low-back pathology or PT. There are always going to be specialty areas that you can specialize in, but remember what I said earlier about meeting the minimal expectations? There is always room for growth and professional development.

Dr. Rod Walters may be reached at: [email protected]

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