Developing an Athletic Training Program Policy and Procedure Manual

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Developing an Athletic Training Program Policy and Procedure Manual

Every curriculum that exists runs on a daily basis by some form of rules. These rules are what sets the standards required for consistent operational methods and are commonly referred to as "policies and procedures."

Developing an Athletic Training Program Policy and Procedure Manual

Author(s): Jeff G. Konin MED, ATC, MPT
Creation Date: 8 November 1996
Keyword(s): Education, Administration
Abstract: A policy and procedure manual is a document that every institution, facility and corporation must possess in order to establish and maintain standardized and consistent rules. Many athletic trainers can be found in the academic environment with the responsibility of teaching individual classes within a curriculum, as the director of this program, with clinical responsibilities, or any combination of these. The ability to develop and implement an effective set of policies and procedures will help an athletic trainer to better manage a course and curriculum. The purpose of this paper is to define policies and procedures, contrast various types of policies and procedures, and provide examples of appropriate content for a policy and procedure manual.
Objectives: Upon completion of this material, the user will:
  1. Define a policy and a procedure.
  2. Differentiate between a policy and a procedure.
  3. Recognize the goals and objectives behind the establishment of policies and procedures.
  4. Identify appropriate content within a policy and procedure manual for an athletic training curriculum.
Acknowledgment: Portions of this article are reprinted with permission from Konin JG (ed) Clinical Athletic Training, SLACK Inc. Publishers, Thorofare, NJ, 1996.

Every curriculum that exists runs on a daily basis by some form of rules. These rules are what sets the standards required for consistent operational methods and are commonly referred to as "policies and procedures." The type, extent, and enforcement of policies and procedures will vary from one school to another.

By definition, a policy is "a definite course or method of action selected from among alternatives and in light of given conditions to guide and determine present and future decisions"(1). While many curriculums have written policies regarding similar issues, the policies themselves will reflect the respective goals and missions of the program. For example, two programs may both have policies on course sequence. Assume that a student was unable to complete a course due to personal reasons. Program "A" may strictly adhere to sequencing of courses in such a manner that the student who deviates from the path may not be allowed to continue sequence until the following year. By contrast, Program "B" may not want an individual student to fall that far behind and may therefore allow the student to continue through a curriculum with plans to enroll in that particular missed course in the near future, though out of sequence.

"Procedures" describe the act or series of steps that are used to carry out a policy. While a policy simply states what happens under an individual circumstance, the procedure more clearly defines 1) who will carry out the process, 2) the time frame over which the action is implemented, and 3) the actual process of how the policy will be carried out.

In athletic training curriculums, policy and procedure manuals may be designed solely by the program directors and/or may be a part of an overall larger department manual. It behooves an instructor and all students to become familiar with the policies and procedures of the respected educational institution.


The purpose of a policy and procedure manual is to provide for a decisive process that one may follow by under various circumstances. This allows for consistency in the approach to decision-making processes and, more importantly, creates an environment in which equal opportunity exists.

When effective policies and procedures have been established in a curriculum, a program operates with less confusion and the students better understand the daily decision making process with respect to instructor and program requirements.

The goals and objectives of any policy and procedure handbook should again reflect the beliefs of the institution with respect to administrative operations and student guidance. Because policies will affect the student, the instructor, and all those involved in the delivery of educational services, they should be carefully thought out with an understanding of possible conflicts and repercussions. Lastly, the policies and procedures should be consistent and in line with the aims of the host department and the mission of the institution.


The process of devising a policy and procedure manual for an academic institution can be a frustrating and tedious task. As mentioned earlier, many programs maintain volumes of policies and procedures to ensure an algorithm type pathway for each incident.

There are a number of steps that one must take when given the task of devising a policy and procedure manual. As expected, the initial process should include the formation of some kind of mission statement for the educational program. An example of a mission statement might be, "ATC University is devoted to providing the highest quality of education to each and every student regardless of race, age, sex or creed". This mission statement sets the tone for the development of the policies and procedures to follow. The mission statement that has been established by the NATA is presented in Table 1.

Table 1--NATA Mission Statement

The mission of the National Athletic Trainers' Association is to enhance the quality of health care for athletes and those engaged in physical activity, and to advance the profession of athletic training through education and research in the prevention, evaluation, management, and rehabilitation of injuries.

Ethical and legal professional obligations need to be considered in the delivery of service to students. For example, athletic trainers maintain professional standards of conduct as set forth by the NATA. These standards should be included in the policy and procedure manual with appropriate referencing. Additionally, several states legislate the practice of athletic training. These legislative documents should most certainly be included in the manual as well.

The organization and implementation of policies and procedures is complex and ultimately affects many individuals. As such, input for the development of such a commodity should be gained from the stakeholders that may be eventually be impacted by the terms set forth. Input from legal counsel regarding the appropriateness of the terminology as well as the actual implementation of the policies and procedures themselves should also be obtained.

Input derived for the purpose of designing a policy and procedure manual for athletic training curriculums should involve, among others, athletic trainers (both educators and clinicians), institutional deans, other department chairs, and possibly input from the appropriate accrediting agency. While ideas from those who have experience in developing policy and procedure can be beneficial, one should keep in mind that increased requests for feedback and consults may result in difficulty implementing numerous ideas.

Clear communication is essential between instructors and students, as well as between instructors and administrators. Having clearly written, thorough policies and procedures enhances the opportunity for positive communication among individuals when scenarios arise that must be resolved. By contrast, poorly written policies, or the lack of policies, may lead to not only a breakdown in communication, but to potential conflict among parties. In many instances, it is not until a conflict arises that an actual policy is then established as a result. An excellent example of this is the emergency medical plan.

Longevity is the hallmark of a strategically designed policy and procedure manual. Policies are not primarily intended to help one through a time of crisis, but instead are designed to establish order and rules for running your program. Reliable policies and procedures can be beneficial in many ways. However, establishing too many rules can actually be dissatisfying and provide for a very restrictive work environment. Remember that different schools develop policies and procedures based on their individual missions and goals. Using the previous example of a student not being able to complete a course in sequence, we can better understand how an overly aggressive policy can be unwarranted. We said that Program "A" does not allow for the student to continue through the curriculum, and instead requires that student to wait a full year prior to stepping back into sequence. Let's consider a policy which states:

"Any student who is unable to complete an academic course of the AT curriculum with a letter grade of "C" or better will not be allowed to continue to advance through the next sequential semester of courses. A student must then wait until the following year when the course is offered again, at which time the student may repeat this course. After completion of the course at this time with a letter grade of "C" or better, a student may then return to the normal sequencing of the AT curriculum."

Of course, this is a very strict example. Assume that this was the only policy and procedure listed in Program "A"'s manual that addresses course sequencing. If the reason for a student not being able to complete a course was due to a major illness in the family during the week of finals, thus not allowing the student to complete the course work prior to the time that grades must be turned in to the registrar's office, then this student could not pass the course. Further complicating this issue would be if no incomplete policy existed within the program. If the particular student was performing well to this point, and demonstrated no reason for an instructor to believe that the student couldn't continue in the program through normal sequencing accompanied by a designated period to make up the missed exams, unfortunately no exception could be made.

A simple solution to the above procedure would be to add a plan that would allow a student an opportunity deviate from the normal sequencing of courses if extenuating circumstances existed and the program director and instructor agreed that the student has demonstrated the ability to further advance in the curriculum despite the incompleteness of classroom work.

No athletic training program is dormant and policies must be updated on a regular basis. Doing so allows for necessary changes that may have evolved as a result of demographics, legislation, student or administrative concerns, and many other possible issues. Again, it is important to incorporate those affected by the changes in the review process.

To ensure effective communication of policies and procedures, it is recommended that program directors have instructors and students sign a form acknowledging that they have read, understood, and agree to follow the terms of the policy and procedure manual. The students should retain a copy of the signed form, and have access to the manual itself.


It should be evident by now that there is a potential to write a policy for many, many issues. Even more so, for each policy that is written, numerous amounts of procedures could be applied. Therefore, the contents of any policy and procedure manual should first and foremost be written specifically to address the needs of the individual institution. By contrast, no policy and procedure manual should be designed with the goal of preparing to address every potential situation that may arise. (2) While no single manual that exists at any school may be all-inclusive, Table 2 provides an example of an outline of a policy and procedure manual that may typically exist in an athletic training educational curriculum.


Table 2--Example of a Policy and Procedure Manual for an Athletic Training Education Curriculum


  a. Introduction
b. Athletic Training Profession
c. Standards of Ethical Conduct
d. Regulation of Athletic Training
e. Essential Functions of an Athletic Trainer


  a. Program Goals
b. Admission Requirements
c. Accreditation Status
d. Curricular Philosophy
e. Prerequisite Requirements
f. Course Sequence
g. Curricular Content
h. Course Descriptions
i. Clinical Internships
j. Graduation Requirements


  a. Academic Requirements
b. Readmission
c. Attendance
d. Dress Code
e. Health Insurance
f. Liability Insurance
g. Student Health Records
h. OSHA Requirements
i. Student Clubs
j. Reference Material
k. Faculty Information


  a. Clinical Contracts
b. Confidentiality Forms
c. School Grading Policy



Policies and procedures are used in all educational institutions as a means to provide for consistency in the delivery of quality education. The process of devising a policy and procedure manual is a complex task that should include the efforts of many individuals and be based on the goals and missions of the respective institution.


1. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Merriam Webster Inc, Springfield, MA, 1994.
2. Nosse LJ, Friberg DG. Management Principles For Physical Therapists. Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, MD, 1992.

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