How To Become a Sports Medicine Nurse

Updated June 30, 2023

Sports medicine nurses help physicians take care of sportspeople ranging from professional athletes to youth players. These medical professionals take care of sportspeople experiencing musculoskeletal injuries such as muscle strains, torn ligaments, dislocations, joint strains and bone fractures. To qualify as a sports medicine nurse, you require at least a minimum of a bachelor's degree in the relevant medical programs.

In this article, we discuss what a sports medicine nurse is, the duties of a sports medicine nurse, skills, salary and job outlook.

Key takeaways:

  • A sports medicine nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in providing care to athletes and people with sports-related injuries.

  • A bachelor's degree in nursing is the minimum educational requirement for sports medicine nurses, though you can gain entry-level nursing experience with a diploma or associate degree.

  • You can gain clinical experience by working in an orthopedic clinic or completing a sports medicine nursing fellowship to prepare for a career as a sports medicine nurse.

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What is a sports medicine nurse?

Sport medicine nurses are primarily orthopedic and family nurse practitioners who have completed a sports medicine fellowship. A sports medicine nurse assists physicians during musculoskeletal surgeries, diagnosis and treatment of sports-related injuries and taking care of sportspeople during the recovery period. The nurses ensure their patients properly regain strength and heal well. Sports medicine nurses also train sportspeople about ways of alleviating symptoms and preventing further injuries. The health care sports medicine nurses treat the following injuries:

  • Strains and sprains especially hamstring and ankle sprains

  • Dislocation and bone fractures

  • Inflammation of fluid sacs, which cushion body joints (Bursitis)

  • Elbow injuries

  • Abrasion and laceration

  • Aching and sore muscles caused by overuse, poor functioning of the lower spine and stress fractures

  • Inflammation of tendons caused by poor form or overuse

  • Knee injuries such as anterior curate ligament (ACL) tears

  • Achilles tendon injury

Related: What Is a Family Nurse Practitioner? (With Salary Expectations)

What do sports medicine nurses do?

Sports medicine nurses treat physically active people and athletes for chronic and acute injuries that cause immobility. Here are the common roles and responsibilities of sports medicine nurses:

  • Help sports medicine doctors provide care for musculoskeletal injuries

  • Monitor vital injury signs of athletes

  • Treat and nurse injuries with wound castings and dressing

  • Handle pain management schedules of athletes by administering pain doses and monitoring allergies and medication reactions

  • Educate athletes about how they can safely recover from injuries and surgeries

  • Assist athletes in improving mobility and strength after treatment of musculoskeletal problems

  • Consult and work with health care teams to evaluate, plan and implement the right care plans for sportspeople

  • Prepare athletes for surgeries, help surgeons and discharge patients after surgeries

  • Provide trauma care to athletes suffering musculoskeletal injuries

  • Prescribe medications to injured sportspeople independently or according to an agreement involving a sports medicine doctor

  • Order, interpret and perform laboratory tests and diagnostics

  • Offer post-surgery care plans

  • Offers first aid to injured athletes during sporting events

Related: What is Nursing? (With Job Examples and Salaries)

How to become a sports medicine nurse

Sports medicine practitioners help athletes prepare for sports competitions, treat injuries and help sportspeople recover from injuries. If you are interested in pursuing a sports medicine career as a nurse, you must understand the qualifications required. Here is the path to follow to become a sports medicine nurse:

1. Meet educational requirements

To work as a sports medicine nurse, you require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in relevant medical programs. However, you can start as a licensed practical nurse by earning a diploma in practical nursing. Through the diploma course, you will learn primary nursing care in a wide range of healthcare settings like nursing homes, urgent care clinics, hospitals, hospices and doctor's offices. The next step to becoming a sports medicine nurse after acquiring a practical nursing diploma is earning an associate degree in nursing. Become a registered nurse (RN) in two years with an associate degree in nursing.

After acquiring broad experience as a nurse, you also require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree to qualify as a sports medicine nurse. BSN programs take four years, and students acquire knowledge in patient-centered care, clinical judgment, physical assessment and leadership skills. A BSN program comprises general education courses. Some of the common courses for BSN learners include anatomy, pharmacology, nursing research, emergency care, phycology, microbiology, nursing theory, nutrition and health assessment.

2. Acquire experience and complete medicine fellowship

To qualify for sports medicine nurse roles, you require at least three years of experience. You can acquire this skill set by working as an orthopedic nurse or in clinics taking care of patients recovering from musculoskeletal surgeries or treating patients with bone fractures.

Sports medicine fellowships are one-year accredited programs for nurses who have completed residency training in orthopedics, emergency medicine and family medicine. Sports medicine fellowships help nurses develop expertise in sports medicine.

Key skills for sports medicine nurses

If you are interested in becoming a sports medicine nurse, you must possess or develop a specific set of skills. Some of the skills that medical practitioners in the sports field require include:

1. Communication

Excellent nurses possess outstanding verbal and written communication skills. The nurses communicate important instructions to athletes concerning how to manage their health and treat injuries. To effectively pass intended information, the practitioners can use either written or verbal communication that is easy to understand with concise and precise messages.

2. Empathy

Sports medicine nurses mainly deal with injuries that can be traumatizing to sportspeople. Great nurses show compassion to the athletes for their predicaments. Sportspeople require compassion, understanding and care to adapt to the situation and recuperate quickly. A supportive, encouraging and empathetic attitude helps the athletes feel the love they need during difficult and painful situations.

3. Decision-making

Sports nurses have to make quick and accurate decisions regarding the treatment plans of injured sportspeople. For example, during a sports event, if a sportsperson is injured, the practitioners assess the extent of their injuries, and evaluate and administer the proper treatment within a short period. In case the injury is severe, nurses have to decide quickly to stop the athletes from continuing with the games to avoid further damage or getting more injuries.

Related: Decision-Making Skills: Definition and Examples

4. Teamwork

Sports medicine nurses work with sports doctors, trainers and other sports stakeholders. For example, after assessing the damage, a nurse will explain the results to the athletes and trainers to ensure they understand the extent of the injury and the treatment and management plans. For sportspeople to quickly heal, teamwork between the involved parties is required.

5. Tech-savvy

Nursing work involves report-writing and keeping medical records of sportspeople. Computers are excellent ways of writing and storing information. Effective nurses have computer knowledge. Nurses should be able to use medical-related computer software, including Microsoft Excel and Word to maintain medical records.

6. Stamina

The responsibilities of sports nurses may involve duties that require physical strength. For example, when sportspeople are injured and unable to walk, the nurses carry them. Nurses also need the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental efforts. The practitioners stand for long during surgeries and other medical procedures involving athletes.

7. Time management

Time management skills are based on planning, prioritization, building and implementing systems. Managing weekly or even daily schedules becomes possible with attention and thoughtful planning. Developing effective time management skills can have a positive impact on all aspects of life.

Related: What Is Time Management? (Plus Useful Time Management Tips and Advice)

8. Stress tolerance

When sportspeople are not recovering as fast as expected, sports nurses may feel pressure from trainers and other sports stakeholders. To excel in this medical field, nurses should effectively deal with high-stress situations and positively accept criticism.

9. Problem-solving

Most of the diagnosis process of sports medicine is investigating work. Nurses inquire from athletes where they are injured, evaluate the extent of injuries, find solutions and determine the root cause of the problems. If you do not have natural problem-solving skills, you can develop them. Not all injuries have the same exact cause, even if they seem to be the same injury. Nurses have to investigate to understand what causes the injuries and how to stop the cause.

10. Professionalism

Excellent sports nurses exhibit professional behaviors and qualities through the way they work and their attitude. For example, great nurses treat injured sportspeople courteously, respectfully and politely regardless of their backgrounds. Professional nurses maintain high standards of care and correct treatment procedures showing emotional maturity.

Related: Ultimate Guide to Professionalism

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Salary and job outlook for sports medicine nurses

According to the Bureau of Statistics Labor (BSL), the employment opportunities of sports medicine nurses also known as athletic trainers are anticipated to increase by 16% from 2019 to 2029. The growth is four times more than the expected average growth of all occupations in the United States. As people understand the effects of sports injuries and the aged and middle-size people remain active, the demand for sports nurses is expected to increase. Furthermore, increased cases of chronic injuries and sophisticated treatment and detection increase the demand for sports medicine services.

Although Indeed does not provide salary information about sports medicine nurses, according to BSL, the athletic trainers' national average salary was $48,440 in 2019. The salaries vary with locations and where the nurses are employed.

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