Answers to your questions about athletic training

What is athletic training?

What many people think of as 'sports medicine' is actually athletic training. Athletic trainers (ATs) are health care professionals who collaborate with physicians. The services provided by ATs include prevention, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. Athletic training is a healthcare profession that is recognized by the American Medical Association (AMA). In 2010, U.S. News & World Reports named athletic training as one of the 50 best careers. Athletic trainers are licensed or otherwise regulated in 49 states. California passed a licensure bill in 2014, but it was later vetoed by its governor.

Athletic trainers are integral members of the healthcare team in secondary schools, colleges and universities, professional sports programs, sports medicine clinics, corporate/industrial and other healthcare settings. The athletic trainer’s professional preparation is based on the development of specified educational competencies and clinical proficiencies. Through a combination of formal classroom and clinical instruction and clinical experience, the athletic trainer is prepared to provide healthcare within each of the following content areas:

  • Evidence-based practice
  • Prevention and health promotion
  • Clinical examination and diagnosis 
  • Acute care of injury and illness 
  • Therapeutic interventions 
  • Therapeutic and rehabilitative exercise 
  • Psychosocial strategies 
  • Healthcare administration 
  • Professional development
  • Clinical integration

More information about the athletic training profession is available from the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA).

Is an athletic trainer the same thing as a personal trainer or strength coach?

No, not even close. Some people including coaches and sports announcers frequently refer to athletic trainers as "trainers" and this sometimes creates confusion about the profession. The name "athletic training" also gives a wrong impression of what we do because athletic trainers don't 'train' athletes and often care for patients who are not athletes. Athletic trainers are healthcare providers who provide care for both athlete and non-athlete patients alike. In addition to healthcare, there are many other career options that are related to sports. If you are looking for a sports career but are unsure of the best one for you, you can find more information about options from's sports careers site.

In most states, athletic trainers must have a license to practice and the nationally recognized Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) credential requires, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree from an accredited program, extensive clinical practice time under the supervision of a credentialed professional, repeated demonstration of proficiency in hundreds of clinical skills and passing a rigorous national certification examination. Personal trainers, on the other hand, are fitness or wellness professionals rather than healthcare professionals. There is little or no regulation of their professional practice and there are very few requirements to obtain some personal training credentials. The only similarity between athletic trainers and personal trainers is that both work with athletes, but they have very different jobs. If you are interested in becoming a personal trainer or fitness/performance professional, you should consider majoring in exercise science. Visit the EDU PAES webpage for more information.

What can you do with an athletic training degree?

In order to practice athletic training, you must generally pass a national board exam and obtain a license in your state. In the final semester of their senior year, students become eligible to sit for the Athletic Trainer Certification Exam offered by the Board of Certification, Inc. and Ohio State has an exceptional record of success on this exam. Upon passing this exam and completing their degree, graduates are awarded the professional credential "ATC," the entry-level credential for practicing athletic training. Forty-nine states regulate the practice of athletic training, with most requiring a license to practice. Athletic training practice in Ohio requires a license issued by the Ohio Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Athletic Trainers' Board (OTPTAT).

Athletic trainers are employed in a variety of work settings and they provide care for both athletes and non-athletes alike. Most of the program graduates elect to go on directly to a master's degree program, as roughly 70% of Certified Athletic Trainers have master's degrees. Of those students entering the workplace immediately after completing a bachelor's degree, the most common settings nationwide are outpatient clinics with high school coverage and intercollegiate athletics. Ohio State graduates tend to find jobs in intercollegiate and professional athletics in numbers higher than the national average. More information about where athletic trainers work is available from the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA).

Is this a good major to get me into a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program?

You should major in athletic training because you want to be an athletic trainer and not merely as an undergraduate degree before you enter another profession. Combining professions can make sense for certain students who want to use elements of both in their future practice as healthcare providers, but not for someone who doesn't plan to use what they learn. Athletic training and physical therapy can be a good combination of professions for students interested in sports medicine and orthopedics, but is probably not the best choice if your interest is in other areas of physical therapy.

Although there are areas of overlap, our traditional jobs are quite a bit different. Athletic trainers traditionally are the healthcare providers who work with teams and athletes on an every day basis in their competitive setting in athletics and on the sidelines during practice and games. Our care in these settings includes elements of emergency medicine, primary care and others areas of healthcare that are not usually part of traditional physical therapy practice. Physical therapists more traditionally work with athletes in outpatient rehabilitation settings rather than on the sidelines and usually see these athletes on a referral basis rather than being present when their injuries occur. Their professional preparation also includes areas of practice not typically seen by athletic trainers such as stroke and spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Most athletic trainers who go on to earn a DPT degree leave the athletics setting and work primarily in an outpatient rehabilitation setting.

For students mostly interested in other areas of physical therapy (e.g. inpatient hospital care, neurological and stroke patients, pediatrics, geriatrics, etc.), athletic training may not be the best choice as an undergraduate major. The Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training (BSAT) program requires an extensive clinical time commitment that isn't necessary for students who don't intend to make sports medicine an important part of their future practice. As a program with competitive secondary admissions, and more applicants than we can accommodate, it is very difficult to admit students who do not plan to practice in a sports medicine setting.

There are any number of other undergraduate majors that do a fine job of preparing students for physical therapy and other graduate entry professions. Speak with an advisor who can help you determine which of these majors will best meet your needs. You can learn more about physical therapy at Ohio State by visiting the OSU Physical Therapy Division website.

How competitive is the athletic training major at Ohio State?

Very competitive. Ohio State's Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training (BSAT) program is a flagship program with an established national reputation for excellence. Of the over 360 accredited athletic training programs nationwide, Ohio State is always at or near the top in terms of board exam passing rates and there are few programs that can offer the opportunities that are found here. The qualities attract many excellent students and the end result is that secondary admission to the program is very competitive. See their program admissions page for more information about secondary admissions.

Typically, 50 or more students apply for 30 BSAT program openings each year. This applicant pool is narrowed down to around 40 finalists based on their college grades and performance in clinical observation experiences during one of the prerequisite courses. Admission finalists are interviewed, and a combination of grades, clinical performance and the interview is used in final admission decisions.

This program is not the right fit for everyone. Generally speaking, highly motivated and talented students who consistently demonstrate their enthusiasm, maturity, readiness and work ethic are likely to be admitted.

While the following does not guarantee admission, competitive applicants typically:

  • Are academically talented. To be considered you almost certainly need to have a college GPA of greater than 3.0. The average admitted student's GPA has averaged 3.4 over the last year few years
  • Actively demonstrate their passion and enthusiasm for athletic training. The average accepted student's clinical evaluation score is 94 percent
  • Are very mature, responsible, self-directed and professional. Not everyone is ready to start being a healthcare provider as a college freshman or sophomoreApplicants should be ready to be counted on, ask a lot of questions and get very involved in their clinical observation time instead of watching from a distance
  • Are very energetic, outgoing and flexible. Quiet, reflective students often struggle with their clinical observation time here because they don't demonstrate their passion and enthusiasm as much as they need to in order to be admitted
  • Make it obvious that they are here to be healthcare providers and not just because they are sports fans or former athletes. If you are looking for a way to stay in sports now that your playing days are over, this program is not the best option. Athletic training is a healthcare profession, not a sports profession
  • Treat athletes like patients and as real people instead of sports heroes
  • Demonstrate that they are highly responsible and can be counted on to go the extra mile
  • Vigorously protect their patients' confidentiality
  • Apply classroom learning to real-world situations
  • Take pride in their professionalism, appearance, knowledge, skill and dedication
  • Take personal responsibility for their future and their success
  • Plan for contingencies and have a clear idea of their future professional goals
  • Understand and embrace the extensive out-of-class time commitment required for the major
  • Are focused on putting their athletic training skills into practice rather than using athletic training solely as a stepping stone to a graduate program in a different profession

I've been told that at big schools like Ohio State, athletic training students don't get to work with the high profile athletes. Is that true?

The short answer is of course it's not true. We actually hear this myth from quite a few prospective students who come for campus visits after having visited other schools. To be clear, every single one of our students completes a clinical fieldwork experience with Ohio State Football that includes daily interaction and care for our highest profile patients. We wouldn't want to graduate a student who didn't! The roles in which our students find themselves are based on what they have shown they are ready to handle, not the profile or celebrity status of the patient.

Our students are all involved in hands-on clinical care with ALL of the athletes at our university, be they walk-ons or Heisman trophy candidates. However, in athletic training, we don't make distinctions based on sport or position on the depth chart. Prospective students whose actions suggest they are considering Ohio State simply so they can meet famous athletes do not belong here and do not make it into the program. We are professionals, not fans. Every patient deserves the very best care we can provide.

ATC is a registered trademark of the Board of Certification Inc.

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