A High School AT’s Lament

11 Oct

I love my job.  I really, really do.  I love working with high school athletes, they keep me young.  I love working with other professionals (teachers, coaches, physical therapists, MDs, DOs, DCs) who pour their lives into the lives of others.  I enjoy being a role model for student athletic trainers.  I enjoy being a CI for a local ATEP.  I like writing occasionally in this blog and giving back to the profession.  I enjoy the work I get to do for PATS and for the BOC.  But there are also things I don’t like about my job.  I don’t like the weird hours that took so much from my personal life.  I don’t like the mountains of paperwork that seem to grow through the years.  I don’t like the added stress of RTP decisions when the coaches, athletes, parents and community view games as “vitally important” to Johnny getting a scholarship to old State U.

I know my story isn’t unique and that there are many others in our honored and storied profession that share the same joys and laments.  This news article shares many of my same laments and it is from Nevada, clear across the country from me.  I believe this is a universal issue.

That just shows one reason why it’s hard for Washoe County schools to fill and maintain their athletic trainer positions.

“The athletic trainers that are here now, we have to be teachers to get the balance of the salary and the benefits. Then they get burnt out and don‘t want to do it anymore,” Klonicke said. “I have the full-time teaching job, and I’m also the PE department leader. I’m the full-time athletic trainer here at the school. Then I also work as the Lead Athletic Trainer for the Washoe County School District. I’m juggling being a teacher, an athletic trainer and a father and a husband.

Read more: Sparks Tribune – Help Wanted Athletic Trainers

Doctor’s work hard, spending a lot of time away from their families, but they are often pulling down a 6 figure salary and don’t usually work weekends.  The time away from family is often worth it to the doctor because the family can enjoy a high quality of life because of the sacrificial hours the doctor spends away from the family.  The ATs in the featured article must be spending 60 hours a week at work minimum plus then prep time, weekends, etc.  I can’t blame the ATs for walking away.  The stress on the personal life just isn’t worth it.

Athletic trainers in the WCSD receive a $13,000 stipend for their work, but must work another job in order to support a family or even themselves.

I am sorry, but $13k for the amount of stress and time these ATs put in for the school district is a slap in the face to our profession.  The school district should seriously consider dropping athletics if they can’t pay the AT a salary commensurate with the education and stress.  But I can’t entirely blame the school district, we as ATs are partially to blame.  We are taught in our ATEP programs that long hours, crappy work conditions and low pay are an acceptable part of our profession.  “It is how it is and how it will always be.”  Hogwash!  It is that way because WE ALLOW IT TO BE!

What can we do as a profession?

I am not a person who complains without offering solutions.  I have complained enough.  Now I will offer some solutions.

1.  Don’t settle for a low paying job.  If you are fresh out of school, don’t take a job that won’t pay your bills!  I don’t think I would take a job for less than $40k if I were fresh out of school.  For every year of experience, you should be thinking at least $2k per year more.  And if the position is in a high cost of living area, you should be demanding more.  Don’t settle.  Just because someone offers you a job doesn’t mean you have to take it.

2.  Salary is negotiable.  Play a little hard ball in the hiring process and ask for a high salary.  Do your homework and know that you are valuable!  ATs have worked their tails off in school.  It is not an easy course of study.  The BOC exam is one of the toughest national board exams within the health care industry.  An AT is an elite, unique person and should be compensated as such.  But it is my experience that we as a profession have collective low self esteem.  WE ARE A HIGHLY TRAINED, WELL EDUCATED HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONAL.  Now act like one!

3.  Don’t work for free.  In my current position, I have become “the go to guy” in this region for all kinds of people to contact for PRN AT work.  I am the “keeper of the list” which is a list of all the ATs in South Central PA.  This list includes every high school, college and a growing list of PRN ATs.  Right now, I have over 200 email addresses and contacts in the list.  Tournament directors, summer camp coaches, etc. contact me to send out emails to these ATs for event coverage.  They all know that the prevailing rate for us is $25/hr.  Cost of living in our area is lower than the national average.  But the point is, we don’t work for free and collectively we have demanded $25/hr.  These directors and coaches know this and build this fee right into their camps, tournaments, etc. cost.  But it took a lot of ATs working together to get it to the point it is now.  I do believe it is acceptable to volunteer services for a worthy charity such as a “Relay for Life” or Charity Fundraiser for Leukemia, etc.

4.  Do your homework.  If you are in an underpaid position, do the work necessary to get a raise but be prepared to leave.  I constantly monitor my hours.  I constantly monitor position openings.  I always look at the NATA salary survey.  I even did a salary survey for the ATs in the area.  Constantly make sure your administration knows how hard you work and the stresses you deal with.

5.  Complain to the right people.  Don’t complain to the coaches, the athletes, the parents or the community.  This will only make it look like you are a whiner who is only working for the money.  Always, always carry yourself with the highest in professional standards and demeanor.  But, when the opportunity presents itself do present your case to the decision makers.  Make your presentation (formal or informal) using facts and statements based on facts.  Don’t make the argument based on emotion.

I will close by reaffirming I truly love my job.  I love the profession of athletic trainer.  The longer I work in this field, the more my love grows for the profession.  No job is without stress or things you don’t like to do.  As I reflect on what I have experienced as an AT, I am truly a blessed man.

One Response to “A High School AT’s Lament”

  1. PK July 24, 2014 at 11:03 pm #

    AMEN!!!! I left the world of Athletic Training because as I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed that very few were married, happily married or even in a relationship. They didn’t have the time. When I graduated I took an internship. After completing my internship I refused to work for “free”. I really miss the industry, but it doesn’t look like much has changed.

    I have a friend who is recently retired and bored. They went to a weekend workshop and now they are the “athletic trainer/first responder” for a high school football team in NC with a stipend of $1,300. I couldn’t believe it! Absolutely ridiculous. How will the Athletic Training professional ever be seen as a professional medical position with this type of undermining!?!?!?!?! I am not even in the profession and I am so disturbed that the NC Board of Athletic Trainers actually has it written in Article 34 of their General Statute, “Hiring of athletic trainers by school units.
    Local school administrative units may hire persons who are not licensed under this Article. The persons hired may perform the activities of athletic trainers in the scope of their employment but may not claim to be licensed under this Article. The persons hired may not perform the activities of athletic trainers outside the scope of this employment unless they are authorized to do so under G.S. 90-527(b). (1997-387, s. 1.)”

    This is the qualifications you must meet to call yourself an Athletic Trainer in a NC High School…

    (a) Each LEA must designate for each high school within its jurisdiction either a licenses athletic trainer who is qualified pursuant to Article 34 of Chapter 90 of General Statutes of North Carolina or a first responder. These persons may be employed on a full-time or part-time basis or may serve as a volunteer.

    (b) A first responder must complete and maintain certification or be in the process of completing courses in the following:

    1.Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation as certified by an organization such as the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association;
    2. First aid as certified by an organization such as the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association; and
    3. Injury prevention and management as certified by an organization such as the National Athletic Trainers Association, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. In addition, each first responder must complete 20 hours in staff development each school year.

    Really? All because no one is stepping up and demanding that their child’s life is worth more than a game!


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