Growth, Diversity and Leadership

March 4, 2024 by Lydia Hicks
Growth, Diversity and Leadership, National Athletic Training Month, photo of Nicole Jones

This year, the National Athletic Training Month theme, “From Head to Toe,” highlights the whole-body, whole-person care ATs provide their patients. Throughout March, NATA Now is highlighting members from across the settings. These eight ATs, also featured in the March NATA News, are examples of how ATs are advancing the profession through their direct and indirect efforts.


Nicole Jones, MS, ATC, started her AT career in the secondary school setting, where she grew and transitioned into her current role in the clinic setting.

“When I had my secondary school rotations in college, I knew I wanted to be in the high school setting,” Jones said. “I was a graduate assistant when I got my master’s, and I knew for sure that's what I wanted to do.”

Having been an AT for 12 years, Jones’ desire to have a better work-life balance and indulge in her affinity for working more closely with physicians led her to the clinic setting, where she currently serves patients from different backgrounds.

A graduate of both Xavier University in Ohio and Ohio University, Jones is a clinical athletic trainer for St. Elizabeth Physicians in the Spine and Interventional Pain Management Center.

She said she appreciates her collaboration with physicians in helping patients manage chronic and acute pain.

“This job really truly gives me that opportunity to work with physicians more one-on-one and I've learned a lot from them,” she said. “It's allowing me to continue to learn, but it has also helped me broaden some of the things I've learned prior and see them in a different light. [For instance], they bring up the imaging and show it to me and then they explain what they're doing.”

Jones brings this joy to celebrating National Athletic Training Month by the way she applies this year’s theme, “From Head to Toe,” in her daily work.

“Dealing with spine and dealing with pain management, I have patients who have pain from head to toe,” Jones said. “You really have to take that approach and go into the patient's room and really hear what their history is. Some have pain due to neurological things. Some have pain due to just degenerative changes. So, using [‘From Head to Toe’] as a slogan to go into the room and just to truly examine the history and try to get down to the bottom of why they're having this pain is how I apply [the NATM theme].”

Through this investigative approach, Jones said she has been able to pinpoint the origin of a patient’s pain, whether chronic or accidental, then ascertain the best treatment. As she collaborates with the physicians on her staff, she said she values how they encourage her questions and ensure her work aligns with theirs for the patient.

“So, [it’s] seeing if an interventional procedure is a good plan for them or seeing if just sending them to physical therapy is a good plan, and just [reviewing] everything,” she said.

As a 16-year NATA member, Jones currently serves as the NATA Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee social media representative and EDAC chair for the Kentucky Athletic Trainers’ Society.

“For EDAC and NATM, we are going to do a few things,” she said. “We are going to first do a few highlights from our EDAC Speakers Bureau. We decided to use the theme of NATM to say we have speakers ‘From Head to Toe,’ so we will be highlighting some of our speakers. Also, [March is] Women’s History Month, so we are doing something to commemorate and tie it into NATM.”

Because of her dedication to the profession and EDAC’s efforts, Jones was named a co-recipient of the EDAC Bill Chisolm Professional Service Award in 2023.

“I was completely speechless,” she said regarding her reaction to her selection. “I had no idea that I was nominated, nor did I think that I had done enough to be nominated. ... I never ever did this, or started being involved in EDAC, for recognition. I just really wanted to somehow give back to my profession, because that's something that I've always wanted to do.”

Jones shared her appreciation for the opportunity to volunteer with EDAC through involvements such as EDAC 365, a campaign that recognizes ATs within the profession, social media initiatives and overall advocacy for diversity in the profession.

“It’s definitely put me out there because, to be transparent, there's not a lot of diversity in Kentucky,” she said. “So, for example, I put out a statement about Black History Month on behalf of KATS. Then, last year, I asked our president to give a statement about Black History Month and National Athletic Training Month.”

For Jones, advocacy is also a way to connect ATs in Kentucky and make them relevant.

“In the profession, just in general, I've been the only one in the room,” she said. “So, if I can welcome somebody else, if I could just welcome one person, I feel like I've made an impact. So, I plan to have a statement about National Athletic Training Month on behalf of KATS.”

In continuing to advocate for people of color in athletic training, Jones shared her own professional roadblocks and how she overcame them.

“There's a point in time when there were 28 of us on staff and I was the only person of color,” she said. “As I grew in the profession, I was able to grow into being able to speak up.”

This empowerment is also helping to bridge the cultural knowledge gap among fellow athletic trainers, Jones said.

“I think that's one thing that I really value about the educational portion of the [NATA Clinical Symposia & AT Expo],” she said. “Over the past few years, I have noticed more culturally competent articles or lectures being presented. Now, the information is out there and now more people are wanting to learn more. So, when I was asked to do [a staff meeting] lecture not too long ago, that was my light bulb. I was like, ‘Oh, people actually do want to know this and now we need to make sure that it's out there.’”

From her work and volunteer experiences, Jones said she has learned that one can’t know everything, neither can one afford to be presumptuous.

“There's different ways to get to a solution,” she said. “And that's just how you have to approach things. Everything is not textbook; every single injury or pain is going to be different.”

Along those lines, Jones advised her fellow athletic trainers and athletic training students to learn both within and outside of school education for their careers. Further, she encouraged them to embrace an open mind in job searches, certification, mentorship and networking.

“Use [your education] to the best of your ability because you're going to be constantly learning and soaking it in,” she said. “You never know the people you will meet on that journey. Athletic training is a much larger world than what we all think it is. Don't be scared to ask questions because the answers are out there. I think those are some things that I wish I did earlier on in my career. Talk to [the NATA Hall of Fame members] you see in green jackets during [the NATA convention]. Go up and talk to someone because they can give you some guidance or advice that you would never have gotten if you didn't make that first step.”