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Bursting some common myths about athletic training

Athletic training is potentially one of the most misunderstood allied healthcare professions.  Some may even be surprised to learn that athletic trainers are healthcare professionals.  Who exactly are athletic trainers, and what do they do?  Read on to burst three common myths in athletic training.

Myth: athletic trainers only use tape and ice for treating patients

While athletic trainers do use ice and tape for athletic injuries, that is far from the entire scope of their practice.  Athletic trainers work with physicians to diagnose, treat, prevent, and rehabilitate injuries and illnesses.  You may find athletic trainers doing diagnostic testing, providing wound care, educating on pain management, taking patient medical histories, or applying a cast onto an injury.  The specialized education of athletic trainers means they are an integral part of keeping active individuals healthy and getting them back on their feet if an injury or illness occurs.

Myth: athletic trainers are personal trainers

This is a common one.  Both titles have “trainer” in the name, and both are found working with active individuals.  So, what is an athletic trainer vs. a personal trainer?  Let’s set this one straight.

Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals whose work encompasses the prevention, diagnosis, and intervention of emergency, acute, and chronic medical conditions involving impairment, functional limitations, and disabilities.  An athletic trainer must complete an accredited degree as well as pass the Board of Certification exam to earn nationwide licensure and the ATC credential.  Since 2015 the industry has been shifting into requiring more higher education.  As of the fall of 2022, bachelor level athletic training programs may no longer enroll, admit, or matriculate students.  Instead, an entry-level master’s degree in athletic training is becoming the new standard.

According to Wikipedia, “a personal trainer is an individual who has earned a certification that demonstrates they have achieved a level of competency for creating and delivering safe and effective exercise programs for apparently healthy individuals and groups.” Personal trainers do not diagnose or treat injuries or illnesses.  They focus on strength and conditioning.  Personal trainers may hold an associate or bachelor-level degree, as well as being certified.  There are a few different certification standards, with NASM being the most popular.

Myth: athletic trainers only tend to athletes

Athletic trainers do work with athletes, at secondary schools, colleges, and in professional athletics.  College athletic trainers are employed by NCAA divisions as well as by intermural, junior, and club athletic teams.  However, the industry is growing and evolving as more industries realize the potential benefits of having this sort of specialized healthcare professional on-staff.  So where do athletic trainers work?  Athletic trainers can now be found in industrial sites, military bases, the performing arts, and even at theme parks.  They work with all kinds of people with all levels of activity.  For example, at our ISMaRT Clinic on the University of Idaho campus our graduate students treat students, faculty, staff, and community members.  Not many of these patients are “athletes”, but all are physically active and find benefit from expert clinical care.

Athletic Training Facts

Now that we’ve looked at myths in athletic training, let’s look at some athletic training facts.

Athletic trainers are healthcare professionals

Athletic training education follows a clinical model, with similar clinical education hour requirements as other medical professions like physical therapy and nursing.  At the University of Idaho our students are required to complete a minimum of 900 hours of clinical education over the course of their two-year degree.

Athletic trainers are educated in five domains including:

  1. Injury and illness prevention & wellness promotion
  2. Examination, assessment & diagnosis
  3. Immediate & emergency care
  4. Therapeutic intervention
  5. Health care administration & professional responsibility.

Athletic trainers are licensed/regulated in 49 states and the District of Columbia

The only state that does not require regulation to use the “athletic trainer” title is California.

Every two years athletic trainers are required to complete 50 Continuing Education Units to maintain their athletic training certification

Athletic trainers are required to continue learning to maintain their licensure.  This ensures that they continue to stay up to date on evidence-based practices and can offer the best patient care possible.

More than 50% of athletic trainers work outside of the school athletic setting

While college athletic trainers are certainly common, just as many athletic trainers work in other, more diverse settings.  They are in great demand for their versatile health and wellness services and injury and illness prevention skills.  Where do athletic trainers work? They work in rural and urban hospitals, hospital emergency rooms, physician’s offices, urgent and ambulatory care centers, military hospitals, physical therapy clinics, youth leagues, commercial settings, and professional sports teams.

Athletic Trainers improve functional patient outcomes

Athletic trainers improve functional outcomes and specialize in patient education to prevent injury and re-injury.  Preventative care provided by an athletic trainer gives a positive return on investment for employers, as they can reduce injury and shorten rehabilitation time for their patients.  This translates to less time away from work or school and diminished health care costs.


Myths will always abound about athletic training.  However, here at the University of Idaho, we’re passionate about shining a light on the profession and holding it to the highest standard.  Thanks for taking the time to burst some common athletic training myths with us.



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