Off the Athletic Field and into the Orthopedic Practice The Role of Certified Athletic Trainers

November 2017

By: Tiffany Kobordo, MS, ATC, OTC, CSCS

What is a Certified Athletic Trainer?

Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) are multi-skilled health care professionals who are highly educated in the treatment and management of musculoskeletal injuries.1,2,3 ATCs possess strong skills in clinical examination, diagnosis, and have the unique ability through their training and education to treat and manage the care of athletes and active populations.2 These skills are developed through an extensive education in the human body, the musculoskeletal system, biomechanics, and the physiological processes involved in healing.

What does it take to become a Certified Athletic Trainer?

Master’s Degree: Athletic trainers must obtain a Masters level degree through an educational program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE).

Healthcare Education: ATCs must demonstrate proficiency in six defined domains of comprehensive healthcare including the following:

  1. Injury prevention
  2. Clinical evaluation and diagnosis
  3. Immediate care and treatment of injuries
  4. Rehabilitation and reconditioning
  5. Organization and administration
  6. Professional development

National Board of Certification (BOC) Exam: Upon graduation, athletic trainers must pass a national board exam for which they are assessed in all six aforementioned domains of comprehensive healthcare.

License: State depending, Athletic Trainers must obtain a license to practice in the state in which they are employed.

Fellowship Training: Athletic Trainers who are interested in pursuing a career in an orthopedic office and/or assisting in surgery may apply to complete another 12 -18-month fellowship of additional training for this role.

How are Athletic Trainers utilized in an Orthopedic Practice?

Athletic Trainers have extensive knowledge and education in evaluation of orthopedic injuries. They are also trained and highly skilled in other domains that contribute greatly to an orthopedic practice. Below is a list of typical roles and responsibilities Athletic Trainers provide to a medical practice.1,2

Clinic Roles & Responsibilities

  • Triage
  • Taking patient histories
  • Performing thorough musculoskeletal evaluations with presentation of findings to Provider
  • Assist with aspirations and injections (preparation and administration)
  • Completing medical record dictations
  • Providing instruction on exercise prescription, rehabilitation, and general patient education
  • Completion of diagnostic exam forms, referral forms, orders
  • Durable medical equipment fitting and instruction
  • Gait training/crutch fitting
  • Postoperative wound and dressing care, suture removal
  • Home exercise program prescription/instruction

Surgical/OR Assisting (with additional Fellowship training/OTC certification)

  • Position, prep and drape patients by using accepted practices and techniques to prepare patient for surgery
  • Assist surgeon with reduction of fractures and dislocations
  • Assist surgeon with and perform the removal of orthopedic hardware
  • Holding/placing retractors to provide exposure during surgical procedures
  • Assist with Robotic procedures
  • Tissue handling/preparation and using surgical instruments
  • Suturing/wound closure after surgical procedure
  • Application and removal of immobilization devices and traction, as well as wound closure materials (sutures/staples).

Other ATC Roles/Responsibilities

  • Involvement in local high school, college/university, and club sport partnerships
  • Community event medical care
  • Marketing representative to practice
  • Clinic management and administration

The Benefits of Having Athletic Trainers in an Orthopedic Practice

Many recent studies have demonstrated that having Athletic Trainers employed as an extension of Physicians in an orthopedic practice allows for opportunities to increase patient satisfaction, generate additional revenue, and increase patient volume or throughput.1,2,3

Patient Satisfaction:

  • “Athletic Trainers in their traditional roles, are also educators and rely on their communication skills to teach their athletes/patients about their injury pathologies. This translates exceptionally well to patient satisfaction with the orthopedic clinical setting.”2
  • “Recent studies have been conducted regarding patient perceptions of and satisfaction with Athletic Trainers. One study found that ‘although patients spent more time in the clinic when interacting with an AT, they reported a significant increase in satisfaction and willingness to refer friends and family to the practice.’"2

Patient Volume/Throughput:

Recent studies have shown patient throughput increases between 15%-30% when Athletic Trainers are used in assisting physicians.2  Patients are therefore able to be seen in a timelier fashion with less wait time.  Patients’ time is valuable!


To summarize, Athletic Trainers are healthcare providers with a wide range of skills and training in orthopedics. Research has shown that practices who employ ancillary providers, such as Athletic Trainers, who encompass high-level skills can increase patient satisfaction, patient throughout, and increase revenue for a practice.1,2,3



  1. Greene J. Athletic Trainers in an orthopedic practice. Athletic Therapy Today. 2004;9(5):56-57.
  2. Hajart AF, Pecha FQ, Hasty M, Burfiend SM, Greene J. The financial impact of an athletic trainer working as a physician extender in orthopedic practice. Journal of Medical Practice Management: MPM. 2014 Jan-Feb; 29(4):250-4.
  4. Nicolello TS, Pecha FQ, Omdal R, Nilsson KJ, Homaechevarria AA. Patient throughput in a sports medicine clinic with the implementation of an athletic trainer: a retrospective analysis. Sports Health. 2017;9(1): 70-74.