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The Doctor in Athletic Training Program Can Transform Your Career

Athletic training education history

The profession of athletic training has evolved over the last 25 years. Leading up to and during this period, athletic trainers were typically found in “traditional” settings such as secondary schools, colleges, and professional sports teams.  Bachelor’s degrees were the minimum education requirement which meant that many ATs didn’t necessarily have post-professional education. The education programs that taught Athletic Trainers had different standards and emphases that highlighted many aspects of athletic training clinical practice. During this time, educators in athletic training often held master’s degrees, and many were clinician educators. 

NATA Education Council

In the late 1990’s athletic trainers began to move outside of the traditional setting and find employment in rehabilitation clinics and physician offices.  In 1997 the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) Education Council was founded with the recognition that educational reform was needed in athletic training.  They determined competencies that should be taught in accredited athletic training programs.  Students were required to learn evidence-based practice, clinical examination and diagnosis, and healthcare administration, among other topics.  This was a challenging move for many educators, who had not received education themselves for athletic training beyond the traditional setting.

Moving to a master’s degree

Athletic training continued to evolve as practitioners moved into broader employment settings.  Athletic trainers were increasingly considered healthcare providers and could now be found in occupational health, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and public safety.  In 2015 athletic trainer education requirements moved away from an entry-level bachelor’s degree; now a master’s degree was considered entry-level.  Students would need to be prepared to practice healthcare, not just athletic medicine.

Again, educators struggled to keep up.  Older educators had only practiced in traditional settings, while younger educators often had little actual clinical practice.  How could educators train future healthcare professionals if they had little to no healthcare education and experience themselves?

Introduction of the DAT

In 2011 the University of Idaho introduced the first Doctor in Athletic Training degree in the United States.  Our DAT program was designed to fill this gap in athletic training education, providing advanced clinical education for individuals already established in the field.  Since we introduced the first Doctor in Athletic Training program, others have been formed in universities across the country to meet this growing demand.

What is the Doctor in Athletic Training program?

The DAT is considered a post-professional degree.  As such, it differs from an entry-level athletic training degree in purpose, design, and content.  While the MSAT is designed to create competent clinicians, the purpose of the DAT is to expand the depth and breadth of the knowledge and skills of the practitioner, as well as expand the athletic training body of knowledge, and to disseminate new knowledge into the discipline.  Students undergo systematic study and experiences to grow their understanding, scholarly competence, and inquiry skills.

What exactly do you learn in the DAT program?  The NATA Post-Professional Education Committee developed six core competencies for post-professional athletic training degrees.

1. Patient-centered care: This model emphasizes compassion and clarity in patient communications, as well as shared decision-making and collaboration.  The clinician focuses on the entire patient (not just a disease or condition) as well as facilitating collaboration with the patient and other members of the healthcare team.

2. Interdisciplinary collaboration: Although interdisciplinary collaboration is advantageous to patients, there are many barriers to successful implementation, such as restrictive billing systems, authoritative organizational systems, and separation of disciplines.  Aside from teaching athletic trainers to overcome these barriers, we also work to overcome these situations in the academic setting.

3. Evidence-based practice: This way of thinking integrates best research evidence, clinical expertise, and patient values and circumstances.  The post-professional degree intentionally links classroom education to clinical decision making.

4. Quality Improvement: This competency is related to the athletic trainer recognizing the need for constant self-evaluation and life-long learning.  Healthcare organizations are constantly looking to improve patient care, minimize waste, decrease errors, and increase efficiency.  The athletic trainer needs to be part of this constant move towards improvement.

5. Use of Healthcare Informatics: An athletic trainer needs competency in utilizing databases, properly protecting patient information security, guide patients to reliable online information sources, utilize various software and hardware, and effectively use technology for communication. 

6. Professionalism: Aside from how it relates to the competencies above, professionalism in athletic training is demonstrated through honesty, reliability, accountability, demeanor, compassion, willingness to serve, sensitivity, conscientiousness, commitment, contribution to the field, appropriate dress, and maintenance of a healthy lifestyle.

How can the DAT program transform your career?

While a MSAT degree prepares students to become competent clinicians, a DAT program prepares students to become leaders in the field.  It can help you transition into a role as an athletic training educator, or into leadership roles in other organizations. One graduate of our program transitioned into their role as athletic training educator. In their words, their time in the DAT program was a pivotal experience:

When talking about my experience of choosing to study with the Univ. of Idaho DAT, I always use the phrase “pleasantly surprised.”

Prior to attending, I knew that I was going to be learning directly from industry leaders.  Through the faculty’s knowledge and the affiliated faculty and instructors they brought in, I was set up to learn things that would positively impact my clinical practice.  However, I didn’t fully understand the depth that this impact would make on me clinically and personally.

From a clinical practice perspective, attending the UI DAT program transformed every aspect of my view of patient care.  From day 1, every lesson was focused on providing true patient-centered care.  In addition to this, I also learned about crucial parts of clinical practice that can help me assess my effectiveness, reflect on my decision-making, and create a plan for growth and improvement.  The DAT Program gave me the tools I needed to make a meaningful impact on my patients and clinic.

From a personal perspective, the DAT also fostered the single most influential period in my own personal growth.  The faculty recognize that embracing growth as an individual would also mean cultivating growth as a clinician.  By creating an environment that facilitated this in the classroom and in my meetings with them, they helped me better identify my core values and apply them to every aspect of my life.

While some aspects of transformation can be quantifiable, such as an increase in income or change in position, we often see transformations that cannot be quantified as this student shared.  Through the course of the DAT students define themselves as practitioners, tap into their strengths, and learn how to continue their personal growth well beyond the boundaries of the program.  If you are finding yourself at this junction of your career, we’d love to talk to you and see if our DAT program would be a good fit for you.



MSAT Rolling Application Deadlines:
Priority application deadline: Nov. 15
Secondary deadline: Jan. 25
DAT Application Deadlines:

Only one for Summer admissions: April 15 each year


First day of classes and Summer semester dates:
MSAT: June 3- August 2nd 2024
DAT: July 1st through July 26th 2024

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