Students: Embrace Challenges and Opportunities

May 20, 2016 by Todd Christman

By Jeremy Hawkins, PhD, ATC, ATP Director, Colorado Mesa University

Away from my day job I interact fairly regularly with individuals who own cows. Over the course of the last six months I have noticed something interesting about these cows. Last November I was around some cows during the very first snow fall of the year. We hadn’t received more than four inches of snow, but it was enough to cover the grass in the field where the cows were. It seemed to me the cows that had been born during that year began to dig through the snow to find the grass that was underneath while the cows that were older began to look for someone to come and feed them. For those of you who haven’t spent much time around cows, it is normal for them to be fed bales of hay/grass throughout the winter because their normal feed ceases to grow and is not accessible under the snow.

My second observation came when I was speaking with an individual who owns approximately 800 cows. He told me that because the weather was turning warmer he had turned his cows out. For the non-cow person this means that he took them out of the pasture where he had been feeding them all winter and put them where they could graze for themselves. The problem he was running into now was that the weather turned cold again, so the grass was not growing. And, even though there was plenty of grass to eat left over from last fall, the cows were not eating the old grass because they were wanting the new grass.

Admittedly, I may be misinterpreting cow behavior, but I believe there is a lesson for athletic training students in these two observations. Over the years as an administrator I have witnessed more than one student stop working when a chance to dig in presents itself. Just as the older cows stopped to wait for someone to come and feed them, I have seen a number of students just stop when they get to a point in an evaluation, rehabilitation plan or other athletic training education experience and wait for someone to help them. There are times when this is appropriate, but in most situations I believe a student should dig in and seek to understand and gain the experience a given opportunity provides. If you need help on something that is new or you don’t fully understand, ask for help, but don’t stop. By and large a preceptor should encourage you to dig in and keep going, but if you are assigned to one who does not, ask them for a little more freedom to try things out. It will be worth your effort.

In reference to the second observation, I hope it does not surprise you to learn that not everything is glamorous in the field of athletic training (as with most professions). There are treatment tables and coolers to clean, paperwork to complete and practices to attend. You will not love all of the clinical assignments you have or the patients you treat or the preceptors you will be assigned to. But, like the grass from last fall, these experiences are all part of the educative process, meant to help you become an athletic trainer. You may be fortunate enough to be placed in a situation where it seems as though everything is new grass. Cherish those and make the most of them, but do not discredit the experiences that are all around you every day. In the end, learning through those situations may be most important.