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Program Director explains importance of Athletic Trainers

Jan 23, 2023

In light of the recent medical episode involving Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin during the Buffalo Bills versus Cincinnati Bengals game, a national spotlight has been shown on the essential role of athletic trainers and other medical professionals, both on and off the field.

The quick actions by athletic trainers that day validate the importance of educational programs that prepare athletic trainers for a vast array of emergency situations. As Program Director of the Master of Science in Athletic Training Program at Waynesburg University, Dr. Andrew Palko shares his insight on the incident and the overall significance of athletic trainers.

Dr. Palko serves as the program director of athletic training, assistant athletic director for sports medicine and assistant professor of Athletic Training at Waynesburg University. He teaches subjects within the Health Science Department and possesses extensive experience as a clinician and BOC certified athletic trainer in professional sports, NCAA Division I, II and III athletics, as well as the private sector. 

From the view of an Athletic Trainer (AT), can you describe the incident during the Buffalo Bills versus Cincinnati Bengals game and how the quick actions by ATs helped in Damar Hamlin’s recovery?

Damar Hamlin’s medical situation on the field is the scariest of them all for an AT.  Unlike an ankle sprain or muscular injury, time is of the essence.  ATs at all levels are prepared for a variety of urgent medical situations, but the absence of a heartbeat and/or breathing is unquestionably the worst nightmare.  Having trained personnel who are prepared in life-saving emergency action planning and response is extremely critical to ensure optimal outcomes.  In this case, the Bill’s athletic training staff immediately recognized that they had a significant life-altering event on their hands and immediately responded.  The situation went as well as something like this can go under very challenging circumstances. They did a fantastic job, which is why Damar Hamlin is with us today.

What is the importance of having ATs at sporting events?

ATs play a critical role in the care and recovery of injured athletes. They are responsible for preventing, diagnosing and treating injuries, as well as providing emergency care when necessary.  ATs work closely with physicians and other healthcare professionals to ensure that athletes receive the best possible care.  In the event of an injury on the field, ATs are typically the first medical personnel to arrive and are trained to quickly assess the situation and provide appropriate care, such as stabilizing the injured player and calling for emergency medical assistance if needed. This can help to minimize the risk of further injury and improve the chances of a successful recovery.

What are some of the daily tasks for ATs?

ATs are critical to the healthcare team, as they mitigate risk and promote wellness through prevention strategies, examination and diagnosis of patients, development of rehabilitation plans, and assisting patients improve their overall health and well-being. ATs provide immediate care on the field, ranging from first-aid for blisters to life-saving measures. They provide rehabilitation to help their patients get back to their active lives, whether on the field, in the factory or in their daily activities. With a “whole-person” approach to healthcare and wellness, ATs provide care for health conditions that affect all parts of a person - whether it’s screening for strep throat, mitigating concussion risks or identifying those in need of a mental health referral.

How does Waynesburg’s Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) prepare students for careers in athletic training?

The MSAT graduate program prepares students for employment in the profession of athletic training.  The two-year curriculum is designed to meet the entry-level athletic training requirements established by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). Professional preparation includes development of the knowledge, skills and abilities associated with prevention and health promotion; clinical examination and diagnosis; therapeutic interventions; acute care of injury and illness; psychosocial strategies and referral; healthcare administration; evidence based practice; and professional development and responsibility. Patient care experiences begin early in the curriculum and culminate in a clinical immersion rotation that allow you to participate in the full scope of athletic training clinical practice while completing your coursework 100% online during the second year in the program.  The program provides graduates the ability to work with diverse populations in both traditional and non-traditional athletic training employment settings.   

What are some of the career paths for graduates of Waynesburg’s MSAT Program?

One of the biggest advantages of becoming an AT is the opportunity to work in a variety of environments. Many ATs enter the profession because they love sports and want the chance to work with athletes, but this isn't the only path to success. If you want to work with athletes, there are athletic training jobs available with professional sports teams, colleges and secondary schools.  If you prefer a different environment, there are plenty of other options.  With the field of athletic training experiencing explosive growth and demand, ATs also have the opportunity to work with members of the military, performing artists, police and fire departments, recreational athletes, physician practice settings, occupational health and commercial settings, and anyone in physically-demanding jobs.

MSAT at Waynesburg U.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) Program and what Waynesburg University has to offer.