How To Become an Athletic Trainer (Plus Duties and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 25, 2022

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Athletic trainers help athletes prevent or manage injuries through rehabilitation and treatment. These professionals complete specific education and training requirements to become specialized in working with athletes. Learning about the duties of an athletic trainer and how to become one can help you determine if it's the right career path for you.

In this article, we explain what these trainers do, describe how to become an athletic trainer and answer other frequently asked questions to help you explore this career.

What does an athletic trainer do?

An athletic trainer (AT) is a professional who specializes in helping athletes prevent, manage or recover from injuries and improve their performance. They assess injuries and collaborate with doctors or other medical providers to develop care plans for injured athletes. ATs often work with athletes during training sessions and create at-home treatment plans. They may provide services to professional, college or youth athletes or others who sustain sports-related injuries. While their duties can vary, athletic trainers typically have these responsibilities:

  • Evaluate injuries and provide emergency responsive care

  • Develop and implement rehabilitation programs for injured athletes

  • Educate athletes about ways to prevent injury or illness

  • Monitor athletes' progress and make adjustments to treatment plans as necessary

  • Maintain thorough records to document athletes' progress and recovery

  • Use equipment and tools to teach athletes how to perform exercises safely

Related: Learn About Being an Athletic Trainer

How to become an athletic trainer

Follow these steps to pursue a career as an athletic trainer:

1. Earn a degree

Most employers require athletic trainers to have at least a bachelor's degree in exercise science, kinesiology, biology or a related area. Choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education to be eligible for certification after you graduate. During this program, you learn how to assess and manage injuries, provide first aid and develop illness prevention techniques. Examples of classes you may take while earning your degree include:

  • Human anatomy and physiology

  • Applied kinesiology

  • Exercise physiology

  • Nutrition

  • Pharmacology

  • Therapeutic exercises

  • Injury prevention and management

Related: 14 Top Careers That Require a Kinesiology Degree

2. Complete clinical training

Most accredited programs offer students the opportunity to complete clinical training, which can help you gain practical experience in a medical or health care environment. During your clinical training, you may shadow experienced athletic trainers and perform basic tasks under their supervision. Consider completing your clinical training at a high school, college, hospital, rehabilitation center or doctor's office to apply what you've learned in the classroom to a real-world environment.

3. Become certified

Once you've earned your bachelor's degree through an accredited program, you can become certified to work as an athletic trainer. Most states require you to be certified to earn your athletic training license. Contact the Board of Certification for the Athletic Trainer to schedule a time to take the certification exam. The board offers study materials and practice exams to help you prepare for the test. It takes about four hours to complete the exam, which evaluates your knowledge of these key areas:

  • Injury prevention and wellness promotion

  • Assessment and diagnosis

  • Immediate and emergency care

  • Therapeutic intervention

  • Health care administration

Related: 7 Athletic Trainer Certificates That You Can Pursue

4. Prepare a resume

After earning your certification, you can prepare a resume to apply for AT jobs. When you create your first resume, highlight your education, clinical training and certification to show employers you have the relevant athletic training skills and abilities to be successful in the role. If you've worked in a gym, fitness center or other related facility, you can also list that experience on your resume.

It's helpful to customize your resume to each job so you can show employers how your qualifications align with the position. When reviewing job descriptions, look for keywords and phrases you can add to your resume. Include a professional summary at the top of your resume to target keywords quickly and gain the attention of the hiring manager. Make sure to proofread your resume each time you make changes.

Related: 10 Resume Writing Tips To Help You Land a Position

5. Consider a master's degree

Many athletic trainers choose to earn a master's degree to distinguish themselves from other candidates. Research graduate programs that align with your career interests and goals. During a graduate program, you typically complete a combination of advanced coursework and clinical experience to help you improve your skills and gain an in-depth understanding of the athletic training field.

Related: What Can You Do With an Athletic Training Degree?

Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to become an athletic trainer?

Becoming an athletic trainer is contingent on completing your education. Graduating with a bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete if you attend full time. It's helpful to begin the certification process before you complete a bachelor's program so you can begin applying for jobs after graduation. If you decide to seek a higher degree, it may take longer to become an athletic trainer. Most graduate programs take two years to complete.

How can I gain experience to become an athletic trainer?

While earning your degree and pursuing certification, there are a few ways you can gain experience to prepare you for a career in athletic training. Consider getting an entry-level job at a gym, fitness center or rehabilitation center to gain experience working with others in a fitness or clinical setting. You can also get experience by completing an internship program or volunteering while earning your bachelor's degree. These opportunities can help you develop skills and make connections to begin building your professional network.

Related: 15 Job Positions at Gyms

What's the salary and job outlook for athletic trainers?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), athletic trainers make an average salary of $48,420 per year. An athletic trainer's salary may vary based on their geographic location, experience and employer. ATs often earn benefits through their employers, such as paid time off, health insurance and retirement savings plans. These benefits can contribute to their overall compensation.

There's a strong outlook for athletic trainers in the near future. The BLS expects employment in this field to grow 23% by 2030. That rate is much faster than the rate of other occupations in the general workforce. The demand for athletic trainers may grow as more schools add athletic trainers to their sports programs due to an increased awareness of the effects of sports-related injuries. In addition, the field may continue to grow as an older population remains physically active later in their lives.

Related: What Is the Average Athletic Trainer Salary?

What's the work environment for athletic trainers?

Some athletic trainers work for professional sports teams or schools to provide direct care to athletes. Other athletic trainers may work in hospitals or rehabilitation centers, where they streamline the care of patients who sustain sports-related injuries. These trainers often specialize in rehabilitation and therapy. Athletic trainers typically work full-time hours. They may work evenings or weekends and travel to attend sporting events.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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