New York Pushes ATC Hiring

By Staff

Athletic Management, 14.4, June/July 2002,

Even the people behind it know it's the proverbial uphill battle given the current economic and political climate. But the New York State Public High School Athletic Association is pushing to have more of its high schools hire certified athletic trainers.

The task might seem daunting. Not only did the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent economic fallout strain public coffers, but many school districts are facing substantial budget cuts partly due to political deadlocks in the state legislature. Furthermore, lobbying is well organized in New York, and other allied-health organizations, such as physical therapists, are likely to fight an expansion of a sometimes-competing profession.

But the NYSPHSAA has a game plan, says Mark Donnelly, a certified athletic trainer at Plattsburgh High School and chair of the Association's Safety Committee. Working with allies among administrators and physical education directors, the committee has developed a presentation to take to school boards and PTAs. It also has a lobbyist working on the matter in the state capitol and statements of support from the New York State Athletic Administrators Association and the Medical Society of the State of New York.

"We're not looking for a mandate for schools to hire athletic trainers right now," Donnelly says. "We know full well that to ask for that would be almost an impossibility. But we would like our state Education Department to say to the high schools, 'We see this as something that's beneficial to the students, that's beneficial to the districts, and we recommend that you have these people on staff.'"

Many state athletic associations have issued policy statements in favor of hiring more certified athletic trainers, but seldom do they actually take the lead on the issue, says Jon Almquist, chair of the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA) Secondary School Committee. Hawai'i is the only state to mandate athletic trainers be in all schools. The District of Columbia has hired ATCs at all its public high schools, and a handful of states have discussed or implemented measures to encourage more athletic-trainer hiring.

No one is going to come out against increasing medical coverage of student-athletes, notes Almquist, but the issue is paying for it.

To questions of costs, the NYSPHSAA has a ready response to school boards: While it would be nice to hire full-time certified athletic trainers who'd focus solely on athletic training duties, you can hire dual-certified teacher-athletic trainers who could teach part-time and provide coverage and rehabilitation part-time. Almquist notes that the NATA encourages students in the field to consider seeking certifications in teaching as well as athletic training.

Donnelly does something like that at Plattsburgh, teaching physical education full-time and receiving a per-sport season supplement for his athletic training work. Trouble is, he says, he starts teaching before 8 a.m., and his athletic training duties often go until late in the evening, making a very long work day.

A slightly altered approach would help avoid such extreme demands. "A person would come in and teach two classes at the end of the day, and then pick up athletic training duties and be paid, say, on a teacher's salary schedule, and that would be the job," Donnelly says. "He or she would work say, from 1 in the afternoon until 8 or 9 at night."

Donnelly and his committee also have a comeback to the political issues raised by other allied-health professionals who don't want to lose business. They will argue that, unlike physical therapists, certified athletic trainers are specifically concerned with prevention, on-site care, and sports specific rehabilitation.

"The benefits to the district are substantial in savings on insurance costs and savings back to the kids down the line for injury rehabs," Donnelly says. "Plus, there's the benefit of having a certified person in the school district who can work on all kinds of safety issues that are becoming more and more critical from the state standpoint."

One other concern that's been raised is whether there would be enough certified athletic trainers to fill the new positions. The response, Donnelly says, is that if the positions are adequately funded, given proper job security, and chance for advancement, there will be plenty of applicants.

Coupled with the drive to get more athletic trainers in schools is a lobbying effort aimed at updating a state education regulation that limits the profession's ability to use modern treatment techniques in educational settings.

"It's quite limiting, given the scope of our training," says Donnelly. "We still do rehab, but I'm not allowed to use a whirlpool, electric stimulation, and some of those modalities that would certainly make my job a whole lot easier."

A measure that would match the public-schools regulation to the general law has been drafted and is before a state education official. But when it will be acted on is still anyone's guess.