A History-Defining Moment in the Present

April 8, 2020 by Claire Williams

By David Gallegos, MA, ATC, Cert. MDT

District Seven Director 

It is not unique to value history when considering the present and the future nor is it unique to document foundational efforts. It is unique, however, to appreciate the role our current decisions have in validating our past and even rarer to consider the value assigned by our daily interactions on our past, present and future professional capacities. It might even be a paradigm shift to realize our past defines our present, the present develops our future and the process is ever evolving.

To consider innovation in education, clinical practice and delivery models, among other professional developments, a phenomenon of the present is an incomplete appreciation of our past and the inherent entrepreneurial mindset of the athletic training profession. A walk through history will offer us much to celebrate and an excellent opportunity to strengthen a shared vision.

The fact that more than 50,000 certified athletic trainers practice in the United States and internationally and the unparalleled membership participation in our professional association are testament to our professional efforts.

By definition, professionalization is as a process necessary to become a profession. To apply a working definition, a profession has distinguishable characteristics that can be used to help assess its stage in the process: 1) a specialized common body of knowledge, 2) professional authority, 3) community recognition and regulation and 4) a code of ethics.

The original NATA Professional Education Committee and the NATA Certification Committee, predecessors to the NATA Executive Council on Education, Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education and the Board of Certification Inc., bravely lead our profession and marked a significant effort in professionalization. 

Prior to participating in the research behind a 2019 Rocky Mountain Athletic Trainers’ Association presentation, "The Evolution of Athletic Training Education and Certification: Roots of a Profession," I had a favorite definition of athletic training. It resonated with my philosophy and values and was simple: Athletic training is primary athletic health care. I loved its historical accuracy and the expanded vision of our future as well as its valuable use in describing the profession to others.

I asked Dr. Gary Delforge, AT Ret., the former NATA Professional Education Committee chair who wrote the first edition of our educational competencies, the same question. With humility, I was informed my favorite definition was just another name for our profession and was in fact not a definition.

I still enjoy reflecting on the conversation and my realization. Debates among our membership occasionally surface regarding our title mainly because many feel it does not describe our skill set. Without knowing I had perpetuated the strife and confusion within our membership, the public and within myself by using that simple definition. I wonder how many others also do the same. 

Dr. Delforge, with confidence, said, “Athletic training is defined and can be found in the original set of competencies. It was defined clearly enough that it was recognized as a unique profession by the American Medical Association in 1990.” 

After his comment, I felt that I had not valued enough the responsibility, as an active member of the profession, to our history and may have even been disrespectful by asking such a question to one of our original thought leaders. Luckily we are a welcoming profession.

The presentation at RMATA by four of our early leaders in professional education, the ATs accredited with developing of our first certification exam and continuing to follow discussions of the future of AT education has made me an even more passionate champion of the profession. 

I continue to value my discussions with ATs of all tenures and read about our past. It greatly expands my current thought, vision of the future and affords me a new base for participating in difficult conversations. I continue to ask others my favorite question, now with just a slight yet important twist. I ask how they describe athletic training and offer direction to our competencies if they want to know the definition.

I humbly invite you to share the message and recognition found in our past and accept the responsibility of your part in the continued process of athletic training professionalization.

Editor’s note: A video recording of "The Evolution of Athletic Training Education and Certification: Roots of a Profession" can be found on the RMATA website and will be documented through the NATA Historical Commission.