Some colleagues of mine and myself have recently been discussing the upcoming changes that will take place as a result of the mandated entry-level Masters degree. While, I still disagree with the changes made by the ECE and believe they are premature, it was done in an effort to advance the profession of athletic training. In addition to this conversation with my co-workers, I began thinking about the quickly approaching NATM and what we could do to promote our work and increase the level of understanding that surrounds our responsibilities. Many would agree that the lack of public information about the knowledge and capabilities of an athletic trainer is a limiting factor to this profession. With continued efforts to advance into physician extender roles, out-patient clinic settings and mandating an athletic trainer at all high school sporting events, I've wondered, "how else can we, as ATs, make people aware of how important a role we play as health care professionals?" Let's think about the possibility of a name change and what effects in could have on our profession.
For the record, I am newly certified athletic trainer working as a graduate assistant. It was during my undergraduate career that the announcement was made by the NATA and the ECE white paper was released explaining the progressive change to the entry-level Masters degree. During the time, my classmates and I had many conversations about the possible advantages/disadvantages that could come from it. Additionally, we also discussed the possibility of a name change from 'Athletic Trainer' to 'Athletic Therapist,' which to my knowledge, was once a proposal brought to the NATA. After pondering this name change further, it is my opinion that this is a proposal that should be evaluated and researched further. Ah, but what's in a name, right? Well, I think a name change could have more to offer than initially believed.
In a profession that is continually growing and trying to expand, first impressions are important. My girlfriend is often the poor victim of my late night thoughts, and last night she was lucky enough to be posed with the same question I'm asking you right now. "Athletic trainer or athletic therapist?" Her first response was that she doesn't believe it makes a significant difference. My girlfriend is a nurse, so I asked her, "Would you prefer to be called a nurse or a patient caretaker?" Now, obviously this may be an extreme example but speaks to the level of respect that is given by simply being called a nurse as opposed to something more remedial such as a patient caretaker. We do this with every single profession: "garbage man" or "waste disposal manager," "mail man" or "postal service carrier," even Starbucks calls their cashiers, "baristas." My point is that if we can increase the level of respect and understanding that is taken at face value by the public and by the recipients of our services then perhaps it could help to advance the profession in addition to other changes.
Okay, but how does a name change really increase understanding about the profession? By changing the name from 'athletic trainer' to 'athletic therapist,' there is already a slight hint or indication as to what type of services an athletic trainer can provide. Instead of responding to the blood-boiling insinuation, "Oh, so you're a personal trainer," the public and recipients of AT services can now gather from the 'athletic therapist' title that this is a health care professional that provides some type of therapy services to athletes and others. Additionally, whether we as health care professionals like to admit it or not, there is a "customer" and "productivity" component to the care we provide similar to our counterparts in PT/OT. It is my opinion that by switching from the 'athletic trainer' title to 'athletic therapist,' there is a more immediate, face value understanding of the profession as a whole which could help advance us towards these alternative models outside of the college/university/school setting by appealing to potential "customers." This is a proposed change that is directly related to the push by many others to switch to a medical model, as opposed to an athletic model, and obtain an NPI number.
Finally, just a few other numbers to consider. The average salary of an athletic trainer working in the U.S. is $44,000/year ranging from $28,000 to $64,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, Canadian athletic therapists' earn an hourly wage ranging from $27.83/hour to $38.01/hour which equates to a yearly salary range of $58,000/year to $79,000/year for a 40-hour work week (which we all know rarely happens in this profession) with a median wage of $68,500/year. Now, I may be a newly certified athletic trainer, but I think these numbers at the very least should encourage further research to be done to determine what type of effects a name change may have. Do I think a name change will be solely responsible for the advancement of the athletic training profession? Absolutely not. But this profession is in an era of change and growth, and I think it would be "reasonable and prudent" to explore all changes that could benefit that growth.
To conclude, I am merely writing this to provide some food for thought. I am very eager to hear the thoughts and opinions of everyone, especially veterans of the profession. I did not share any counter arguments (push back/turf ware with PTs, etc.) but ask that you share all of your opinions on the matter.