Tenacious Advocacy for Diversity

March 6, 2023 by Lydia Hicks

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, NATA is highlighting women in the profession who are working to advance athletic training through recruitment, retention and leadership.

“Nobody’s going to tell me what I can’t do,” Incoming NATA District Seven Director and Weber State University (WSU) Department of Athletic Training Chair Valerie Herzog, EdD, LAT, ATC, said.

This tenacity has driven Herzog through many accomplishments from becoming an athletic trainer to being an impactful leader and educator in the profession.

One of her motivators for success as a female leader is seeing women advance in athletic training.

“As you look into the issue of how we solve social determinants of health, a big piece of it is having more diverse health care,” Herzog said. “Our membership is half women now, and pretty much half of our athletic trainers are women, but you run these numbers, and you're like, ‘We still have a lot of work to do in diversity.’”

Despite obstacles to in women’s advancement in athletic training, Herzog has succeeded not only for herself, but also other women in the profession.

A few years ago, there was a new accreditation standard stating that AT programs should be housed within schools of health professions.

“[WSU] had been in the college of education for a long time, since the inception of the program, and so I was trying to figure out how to move us,” she said.

Herzog said she proposed this move to the dean of WSU’s College of Education, but he did not show interest. She went on to present the move at a two-week HERS Network workshop for women in higher education. She was told she couldn’t make it happen.

Herzog didn’t give up. She talked to colleagues within and outside WSU, but received the same roadblock of “No, you will not be able to do this.”

With her relentless efforts, she was able to move the needle for her university.

“We are now in the College of Health Professions,” she said.

As an Incoming member of the NATA Board of Directors for District Seven, Utah Women in Higher Education Network and the WSU Board of Directors, Herzog has also advocated for athletic trainers with regard to third party reimbursement.

Whether she is improving the profession or growing and encouraging other female leaders, Herzog has led the cause for women’s professional development with her unyielding leadership as a change agent.

Herzog said that years ago, while working with a particular university as an athletic trainer, she tried to help an undergraduate AT student get assigned to football, but was told that women on the sideline were too much of a distraction.

“I said, ‘This is Division I,’” she said. “‘You literally had a person on a horse, riding around the football stadium on game day. You had, 80,000 fans with air horns and screaming. You had cheerleaders, you had female managers and, really, one female athletic training student in khakis and a polo shirt is the distraction that you can't possibly get past?’ It was just ridiculous. We went round, and I finally said, ‘Look, if you're not going to put her with the collegiate team, then send her out to a high school so she can at least get football experience,’ and they finally agreed to that.”

Herzog also promotes women’s rights in the profession by training her female AT students to negotiate for fair salaries. 

“I read an article years ago that said when [an organization] offers a man a job, he will almost always negotiate for higher salary, and women won't,” she said. “And so we talk about salary negotiations in class, and how to do that. A few years ago, I used to do mock interviews with the students in class to help them get ready for the job market, and then I changed it to a one-on-one, 30-minute session just with me. So I do a peer interview for 30 minutes. They reflect and then they do it with me, and this year, I also worked in salary negotiations, and I make every single student, particularly the women, do it.

“I just really try to support them and teach them how to stand up because athletic training can be a tough profession for a woman you know; you have football coaches just screaming at you in front of everybody, and that can be very intimidating.”

As Herzog expanded this approach to her district’s conference, it has created more interest from female students wanting such sessions at more conferences. Herzog and an avid student led a peer-to-peer session at a subsequent conference, where women shared stories with each other and received advice about how to make it as a women in athletic training.

Another impetus for Herzog’s success is the importance of diversity in athletic training program recruitment.

Since 2020, she has been accomplishing this through collaboration with NATA Hall of Fame member Tom Abdenour, DHSc, ATC, NASM-CES, in recruiting students from historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) and now tribal colleges and universities into AT programs locally and nationally.

“I think 90% of our students come from the two or three neighboring counties,” she said. “So it's pretty common and a lot more affordable to go to a college close to home. So that's why we started getting into the more of the HSIs and the tribal colleges.”

Read more about the inception and development of this initiative in the NATA Now blog, “Increasing Diversity in AT Program Recruitment.”

Herzog said that being able to encourage others and watch them grow has made being a woman in athletic training leadership rewarding for her, and students are the easiest recipients of such leadership.

“They go through our master's program in two years … they come in nervous, and, you know, questioning themselves and not knowing a ton,” she said. “And in two years, it’s rewarding to watch how much growth happens. And then I work hard to stay in touch with alumni, and they send me pictures. One was a Division I men's basketball game, and all the athletic trainers on both teams were all Weber State alumni. Just also [recently] I got a LinkedIn update from one of our alumni and she got a job in professional soccer. Just watching our students grow and develop is fulfilling.”

Herzog not only finds fulfillment in leading future generations of ATs, she said she believes that, according to one of her favorite books, “Why Women Should Rule the World,” women are effective leaders in organizations.

“It's a much more positive environment,” she said. “If you want to sell potato chips to everybody, then you need to get all the voices at the table, right? [Athletic trainers] treat patients from every walk of life, every background.”

Hence, the importance of women in athletic training leadership.

Herzog encouraged women in the profession to not give up in the face of challenges to their advancement. 

“Reach out to talk to somebody personally who's in leadership, and say, ‘I really want to get involved in this way. These are my interests, or heck, I'll do anything,’” she said. “The other piece is that once you're given an opportunity, then do a good job. Show up to the meetings on time, be prepared for the meetings, do the work and you will continue to be invited back.”