Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) Career Profile

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If you would like to work with athletes as part of a sports medicine team, you might consider a career as a certified athletic trainer (ATC). As an allied health professional, an ATC has different skills and duties from those of a personal trainer. Their education focuses on the medical aspects of physical training and athletic activities.

An ATC works with doctors and other allied health personnel to prevent injury, provide emergency care, assist in diagnosis, and provide therapeutic interventions and rehabilitation for athletic injuries. They also work with non-athletes to promote wellness and participation in healthy physical activities. The settings where they work include secondary schools, colleges, sports medicine clinics, and professional sports programs.


To become a certified athletic trainer, you must first complete a college athletic training program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) and obtain a bachelor's degree or an entry-level master's degree. However, this is in transition and the National Athletic Trainers' Association says that a master's degree will be required in the future. Certified programs are found at hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S.

The subjects you will study in your college program have a medical focus. They include anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, exercise physiology, athletic training, nutrition. preventing injury, assessing injuries, therapeutic modalities, first aid, emergency care, psychosocial strategies, and healthcare administration. You may also do a clinical rotation with an athletic team.

Certification and Licensure

Once you graduate from an accredited program, you can sit for the certification exam conducted by the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer. The test is not only of knowledge, but also on your ability to apply it, make decisions, and perform appropriate actions. The examination covers a variety of topics within the five domains of athletic training:

  • Prevention of athletic injuries and promoting wellness
  • Recognition, evaluation, and diagnosis of athletic injuries
  • Immediate care and emergency care of athletic injuries
  • Therapeutic interventions, rehabilitation, and reconditioning of athletic injuries
  • Healthcare administration and professional responsibility

Once athletic trainers pass the certification examination proving skills and knowledge within each of the five domains, they can use the designation ATC.

Before you practice, you must ensure you obtain a state license or pass the other regulatory requirements for the state where you will work. You must get continuing education credits and recertify periodically.

Typical Day

The typical day for a certified athletic trainer varies with the level of athletic competition, employment setting (traditional, clinical, industrial, corporate) and other institutional requirements.

If you are working in an athletic setting, you may begin before practice, applying preventative measures such as tape, wraps, and braces for the athletes. During practice, you would be active in evaluating injuries and sending athletes to the doctor or following standing orders to treat minor injuries.

Your skills include prevention, recognition, and rehabilitation of sports injuries. Whether those occur during practice or competition, you develop a treatment program under the supervision of a licensed physician. Once an athlete is injured, you work with the player, their family, and the medical team to communicate when and how they can return to practice and competition.

Outside of an athletic setting, an ATC may work in a clinic, hospital, or business and provide wellness services, manual therapy, and illness prevention coaching and teaching.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.