70 comments on “Athletic Trainer Salary: It’s Nobody’s Fault, but Our Own

  1. My biggest piece of the blame pie goes to the NATA. As long as they allow these jobs to be posted they will be taken. When I worked at a H.S with what I thought was an unfair salary, I put together a proposal if whatATC’s with masters make and what I make as well as other data. I am still waiting for their response 7 years later. I left but someone else came and took the job. So frustrating. Not a fan of the NATA.

    • Dan, I am as disappointed as you with NATA. It is the biggest insult to our profession when PTAs with 2 years college surpass our salary.

      • Dan and Janice,
        While I can appreciate the need to point the proverbial finger at someone, this issue goes much deeper. The NATA is offering a simple service through the career center. It is neither their role nor their responsibility to set a glass ceiling (or floor in this instance). Would you suggest that they have a 1 limit fit all method? Assign geographical differences?
        I to am disappointed by the salaries I see in many of the job offerings. Heck, minimum wage workers in SEATAC, WA now make more ($15/hr) than some of the jobs that are posted requiring post graduate degrees and previous work experience.
        We are our own worst enemy in this battle. As Dan mentioned, there was someone who was willing and eager to swoop in and take that low paying position. Why would employers make changes to their salary structures when there is a line of Athletic Trainers eager to fill this role.
        As members of this association, we must stand up and demonstrate our value while not selling ourselves short in the process. Until we all are on board, change will not take place.

    • Dan,
      I’m aware that a posting of $8.00/hr seems absolutely disrespectful, especially given all of the work that we put in and the level of health care that athletic trainers provide; however, I do not disagree with this particular job/ pay. I am a newly certified athletic trainer looking for my first full time athletic training position and a lot of the “entry level” jobs that I am qualified for and meet the minimum experience for offer less pay. If you look at most intern athletic training positions, they average a 10 month contract and pay between $10,000 and $15,000 (at least in the areas I have been looking) and if I only worked a 40 hour work week during this time I would be paid between $5.77/hr and $8.66/hr and because that is salary and not hourly, those numbers would obviously drop for working past the “standard” 40 hours, and I would not have any compensation for additional time, unlike the hourly rate. My point is this, yes athletic trainers on the whole are underpaid, but given my knowledge (minimal compared to more experienced AT’s) and experience (again minimal), I would be willing to take a job that paid $8.00/hr knowing that it would help me grow as a professional and I would be able to negotiate for a higher pay/ higher paying job at a later date. Again, I am aware that this job posting seems disrespectful but I don’t know why none of the poorly paying intern positions do.

  2. Josh, a few months ago I decided to take a proactive approach to this problem. I was scanning craigslist for a local part time gig in the fitness industry, because while my current athletic training salary is above the national average (but i do live in southern california), my salary was cut by over $5000 when we were taken over by a new contractor. I came across an ad for a physical therapist looking for an athletic trainer to work part-time at her clinic. The pay was $10/hr. The listed requirements were be a certified athletic trainer with a bachelor’s degree (master’s preferred), 3-5 years experience working in a physical therapy environment. I contacted this person through email and explained my disgust with the posting. She actually emailed me back and tried to explain the situation, that she was a small clinic and that is all she could afford to pay. She went on to explain that it was an entry-level position and that she would be designing the rehab programs and telling the ATC which exercises to implement. I responded by asking why she was requiring so much experience for an entry level position and what she was actually describing was a job for a PT aide which can be done by any responsible person with a high school degree. I also described to her the entry level skills of an ATC right out of school so that she could gauge the type of person that she actually needed for the position. Finally to put it in perspective for her, I asked her why a person with a Master’s degree or a bachelors for that matter would take a job for a salary less than that of someone working at a fast food chain in california. I think she got the message. The next day the job was re-posted with different requirements… but the same pay. This is one way to be proactive. If you see these types of positions. contact the employer and educate them. Tell them what you think. You may not get a response like I did (I have since contacted a few others without a response) but at least they will get the picture.

      • The problem with us athletic trainers is that we care about our jobs too much. In the states where jobs, such as teachers, have unions, they can strike and demand more for their work. if athletic trainers could join together and demand the pay which we deserve (WE ARE HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS AREN’T WE?!?! we might be able to make institutions such as universities, high schools and general clinics see how much they actually need ATCs. But being that most ATCs love their athletes and the reason they work, it would be hard to go against the people who pay us. BUT if the NATA could organize some kind of protest/strike against our low wages, i could see many ATCs joining in on the effort.

  3. I agree with Dan. NATA is our main source for salary standard and I have not seen much improvement. Thus, I refused to pay membership on top CEUs, licensure that costs more than PTs and the biggest joke goes to Us for getting paid less than PTAs with a 2 years degree. 6 years in college plus CSCS cert and I can’t even feed my family.

    • Janice and Dan, You cant blame a voluntary membership organization for the job the YOU accepted for the terms that YOU accepted. Dan you are still waiting 7 years later, is that the fault of the NATA? Janice you don’t belong as a member and I am going to assume you don’t get involved through volunteering to the profession, so stop complaining or get involved to make the changes you think need to be made. The crux of this article (well written) was take ownership for your own situation and not blame others.

  4. Certified 17 years and next week I start work at Bojangles because of paycuts, loss if benefits, and administration seeing a better value in personal trainers. The highest salary I ever had as an ATC was $31,000 and worked about 85 hours a week.

  5. Been doing this for a decade at the high school, college, and professional level.

    The problem is that someone will ALWAYS pick up gigs and work for less than what we deserve. My coaches (DII college) host summer camps and can’t justify paying an athletic trainer more than one of the coach/counselors because we’re “basically an insurance policy.” They think they do us a favor by paying us with t-shirts and lunch each day.

    “Oh you’re above working that camp for $15 an hour? No problem, I’ll just find a fresh out of school ATC to do it.”

    Incredibly unfortunate, but I doubt we can be completely united in this. People need to feed their kids, pay their mortgage, put gas in their cars, etc.

  6. I don’t know how you tell someone unemployed to not take a job on principal. But I think a lot of AT’s have contributed to this culture by chasing status. Many collegiate and professional team AT’s have exponentially more responsibility, work load & time commitment than I, a “lowly” secondary school AT. But I work 33.75 hours a week, get overtime, have full union-subsidized benefits and union support, job security and a six-figure salary that increases annually. My job was good when I took it 23 years ago and the 12 of us in the school district have remained vigilant and diligent, looking for and working towards ways to improve the service we provide balanced with an acceptable quality of life. The vast majority of people I know couldn’t believe we would take jobs in an inner-city environment all those years ago. But both financially and otherwise this job has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. Those college & professional team AT’s can keep their prestige. I’ll keep working with athletes that call me “Ma”.

    And those of you that blame the NATA do you take an active leadership role in your profession and organization or just watch from afar and wait for someone else to do the work? Who is “someone” that should call x, y and z? We are all “someone”.

  7. It’s economics and a free market. It’s that simple. While there may be a great deal of education and training to become an AT, the number of applicants willing to accept a job for the defined pay, define the pay. That’s called supply and demand in a free market. If you don’t like the pay, don’t apply. Of course you may then make -0- but hey, you got your principles right? Everyone thinks they are underpaid and everyone wants more than they get. If you don’t like the pay, do your homework before you choose a career and find a profession that pays what you want. Whining about your pay scale sounds like you are a bunch of self-important nannys.

    • Couldn’t agree more Jack. It is simple economics. You need to pay bills and feed the family and should use simple economics in order to build a family budget. Understanding your family’s budget and constantly reviewing your margins is prudent. Your net family budget should also have a valuation for time. This is where many athletic trainers fail.

      They value their job more than quality of life and ignore simple family economics. Subsequently, many do follow your scenario ‘either take this job or take 0.’ This should not be the case and is where I disagree.

      Personally, I have always been well compensated. However, my principles do outweigh my aspirations to work in the profession. The option isn’t either take this job or have 0, the option is take this job or find another. If after a few years of failed financial gain, it is time to shut-up and move on.

      If you are going to complain, do something about it. If you are broke and overworked, get out. In 2 years of hard work you can become a shift supervisor at Wal-Mart with paid vacation.

  8. I agree with everything stated here. As an AT with over 12 years of experience we as a profession are to blame. ATs would rather moan and groan about their situation rather than personally make change happen. The workforce is waiting for some knight in shining armor to arrive on his valiant white steed to rescue the profession. Guess what. He’s not coming. The only recourse is to get involved or get out. Unfortunately the workforce is so burnt out that they will quit before they get involved. And I’ll take it one step further. Athletic training curriculums foster no sense of business acumen. Great. It teaches us how to order supplies and manage a budget, but their is nothing to foster an entrepreneurial mindset, or a winning attitude eapecially when you are constantly placed at the end of the line and the first in and last out every single day.

    Lastly, I leave you with this. ATs are too giving. Everybody else charges for services rendered. Because we GIVE IT AWAY nobody wants to PAY. It’s that simple. Plain and simple.

    • “Athletic training curriculums foster no sense of business acumen. Great. It teaches us how to order supplies and manage a budget, but their is nothing to foster an entrepreneurial mindset, or a winning attitude eapecially when you are constantly placed at the end of the line and the first in and last out every single day.”

      Well said, but I actually see this as a mentoring/advising issue. I make sure my students are fully aware when they start the job or graduate assistant search of the standard of living in that area and the area they think they want to settle down. With student loan debt what it is, the balance between needing to pay the bills and your dream job is often skewed. We rarely have a student take a job that is not for adequate pay for that area (I think cost of living is an important co-variant to the “average” debate) and they will turn down GA positions that would not at least allow them to break even over the course of a master’s degree. I am not sure that belongs in a class but rather up to the education faculty to foster that sense of pride in the profession.

  9. I fail to see how it is the fault of the NATA for posting “low paying” jobs. Why is is that people think that they shouldn’t post these jobs? What’s the threshold for “low paying”. A job that pays $35K in a rural area may be low, but a person could live on that salary. The same salary in New York City would not be acceptable. The NATA is not the problem. Leave them out of this debate.

    I agree with the economics statement. I’ve said for years that these division I schools and professional teams often don’t have to pay a “living wage” because they don’t have to because they know that someone will take the job. If people stopped taking these jobs then the employer would have to do one of two things. Eliminate the position or pay more.

    A good friend of mine who is a secondary school AT in the Chicago area always tells the story about hiring an assistant. The person that he hired was an assistant AT at a Big 10 school prior to being hired at this high school. When the position was posted he said he got a minimal number of applicants and the AT from the Big 10 school who took the job almost had his salary doubled. The position that he left at his Big 10 school that had incredibly low wages had over 200 applicants. Guess what that meant? That school continued to keep their pay low.

    Finally I will echo what several of the other people that have commented have said. Get involved. My father told me at a young age if you don’t like the way things are then try and change them. If you aren’t willing to do that then don’t complain. Sitting on the sidelines and complaining doesn’t benefit anyone or anything.

  10. This discussion has been going on for years. The insultingly-low salaried jobs are posted, and athletic trainers get all up in arms about it, and the solution presented is usually that the low-paying jobs will go away if people stop applying for and accepting them. It’s a brutal catch 22 in several ways – mostly in points already mentioned by others:
    1. We give our time away. We can’t keep saying, “Sure I’ll work every weekend from now to eternity,” without demanding some kind of compensation for it. Whether it’s negotiating more pay or less hours, it needs to be done.
    2. As a profession with a bachelor’s degree minimum, but 70% at master’s or higher, and so many jobs requiring a master’s or higher, there are so many GA and intern positions that get filled for minimum wage in exchange for partial tuition payment, and maybe room and board (in a college dorm room) and lunches (in the school cafeteria). When an employer looks at the average salary for an entry level athletic trainer and all these $10-12k jobs are dragging down the average, they’re not going to look at specifics before deciding on the salary.
    3. WE KEEP TAKING THESE LOW PAYING JOBS!!! I know, I know…it’s take this job or starve. I don’t really have a good answer for that. I decided to look at other settings. Industrial is a good gig – 40 hour weeks, holidays, no weekends, climate (somewhat) controlled, etc.

    Athletic trainers have a pretty high burnout rate, and I’ve known plenty that have gone on to other careers because the hours/wages just are nowhere close to ideal. The NATA can’t decide for you whether or not you accept the terms a company offers you for employment. Be smart about your employment decisions and encourage/empower others to do the same!

  11. As a newly certified AT I may not understand the situation quite as clearly as the more experienced who have commented on this article. However, I have seen the profession in two states (Ohio and California) and two countries (US and Canada) and have a few thoughts.

    Looking at the larger issue of pay across the country (US) can be a great indicator of how the field is doing compared to other similar health care fields, however, there are a large number of factors that are not considered. Ohio, where I completed my undergrad, requires state licensure and the athletic training jobs are required to be filled by ATCs. I am currently living in California while I complete my masters, and as we all know California does not have any state regulations. Last semester I had 2 students who had been the ONLY medical personnel before entering into their program (and were given the title of Team Athletic Trainer). This would be considered illegal in Ohio. It seems to me, that by allowing unqualified individuals to take on the role of an ATC we are allowing our profession to be ‘watered down’. A person who is just out of high school is not going to be concerned with what the position is worth, they simply want a paycheck.

    I feel like I’m rambling so let me say this another way. If an 18 year old could apply and get a job with a title of CEO or lawyer, do you think CEO’s and lawyer’s would have much credibility or worth in our society? Probably not. While I agree that individual salary is something that each one of us can fight for, I believe that the bigger issue stems from a lack of respect and a lack of knowledge that is still being spread in certain areas. Maybe I’m naïve, but I don’t think a lot will change until every state has requirements and no person who is not certified should be legally able to use the term Athletic Trainer.

    Also, I believe that high school athletic trainers are in an excellent place to help the profession as a whole. It is a unique location as you are able to educate and influence not only your athletes, but their parents/guardians, as well as the staff of your school. I have had the good fortune of coming into a school as an assistant ATC, and it is very clear the respect my Head ATC has earned from everyone he comes into contact with. When these kids become teachers, lawyers, doctors, and whatever else they decide, they will have an understanding of the importance of an ATC and the respect the profession deserves. If they are in a position of hiring an ATC, I am confident that they would be more inclined to offer a more respectful salary. The parents can be a great support system. When discussing an athlete’s injury with a parent, they almost always mention how happy they are that my boss finally has an assistant, and when I graduate they will be pressuring the administration to hire him another assistant. While the administration tends to look at saving money, they have also come to realize that the work we do is not simply a liability issue. By acting conservatively and doing what is possible to prevent injuries, the number of school days missed has dropped dramatically which helps them receive a better education as well as get into better colleges.

    As I mentioned before, I am newly certified and may not have as good of a grasp on the situation as I believe. However, I think that individually arguing salary will only get us so far if we do not work on fixing the issues that damage the professions credibility.

  12. I am a relatively recent grad (2011) and had a rough going during my first 2 years with either low paying positions or no positions (I filed for unemployment at 23). I was fortunate enough to catch on with an up and coming industrial health/ergonomics company where I am 1 of currently 2 full time employees. We have several contracts with manufacturing companies all over the Chicago area. My athletic training program did not teach us how to be independent or entrepreneurs but instead settle for the traditional setting of athletic training. I find myself in a great position to advance a business from the ground up and being compensated well for it too.

    The NATA is not to blame. There are opportunities out there for ATCs that are respected for what they know and for what they are worth.

    • I believe Chris makes a good point in regard to using our education in emerging fields. There is money to be made, or at least fair compensation to be had in the field of industrial medicine. There are also more and more positions every month available to work as a physician extender, which generally (in the midwest region, I cannot speak on a national level) pays higher and employees are generally not working 60-70-80 hours/week. There is always going to be an issue getting reimbursement from secondary schools, it is difficult for them justify salary increases when they are regularly cutting extra-curricular activities, elective classes and increasing the number of students in classrooms. How can we expect to receive a pay increase where some orthopedic practices place Athletic Trainers at schools as a “marketing” tool, tax write off or community exposure. I ask that all athletic trainers when negotiating services at secondary schools do not “give away” services in hopes of driving “business” to another profession. We need to be able to eventually stand alone as a profession if we hope to advance to the levels that we aspire to.

      As a profession, as we move into emerging fields we need to establish a higher rate of pay/reimbursement and have the education to back it up. One suggestion would be for Athletic Training Education programs to create additional tracks or classes that speak to industrial medicine, FCE, Post-offer Pre-employment, physician extending and billing (pertaining to ICD-9 codes and how to maximize reimbursement).

      Unfortunately, in the end, reimbursement and salary will come down to the athletic trainers ability to make money (billing) and reduce costs. I believe by enhancing our education and finding new revenue sources we can utilize the exceptional education, and generally higher than average work ethic to maximize earning potential while maintaining life balance.

  13. It is certainly our own fault.

    I would love to see some CEU courses geared towards salary negotiations and such things. It will be very hard to move the profession as a whole upwards when most of us have no training or experience and little knowledge in these areas.

    I think that is one of the reasons other professions are doing better. A sense of worth and negotiation skills are included in the education.

    If any one knows of any one in Washington state who does courses on salary negotiation please let me know. I have no doubt our state association head would love to hear about it.

  14. My opinion. ….. Everything said was fairly accurate.
    My vote is a form of protest. All 30000 members of NATA should apply for the job and flood that posting. Maybe they will get the hint.

    • Don’t waste your time…I have applied for three different positions with that institution and have not even received as much as a computer generated rejection letter. I could not even get the Head AT to reply even after email, voice mail, and a message left with an assistant in the training room. Sparking this media attention was the most important thing that institution has done and may ever do. The salary is a joke, but so it the entire institution that posted it.

  15. So well written! While I agree that we need to take control of our profession, look outside the box for other types of positions, and generally be proactive there are several factors involved. I think the nata should stand up for its members, it is supposed to support us and be the face of our profession. If the don’t stand up for us, who will? That being said we are responsible for negotiating our terms at jobs and when Starbucks and trader joes pay more than a master degree job, we have a problem!

  16. The NATA does not set the salary standards, the economy does. If you are dissatisified with your salary or job description then you have do something about it. The individual has to take ownership. You can not sit back and wait for others to do it for you. You need to be involved and proactive. You can not complain about the NATA if you are not willing to step up and do something about it. Is this day and age we may not be getting paid for what we do and our worth. That is partly because as health professions go, we are relatively young. We need to continue to educate the public and employers in our abilities and worth. It is up to us to make our lives better.

  17. Expecting to be paid as much as ot or pt’s is a bad joke. You don’t have the training or the education. 45k sounds about right for entry level when someone who didn’t go to med school nor do the school for dpt to make. If you can get more then more power to you.l but don’t expect to do less school and less training and get equal pay.

  18. Bob.
    Less school and less training? I do not think you comprehend the education and training that it takes to be a Certified Athletic Trainer

    • I comprehend that it is both less time and less intensive than pa pt and ot all of which you referenced. You are correct in that you shouldn’t settle and attempt to raise your base salaries by demanding more but to use words like “comparable” in that article is a joke. You aren’t in the same tier as dpts (which is almost required now) and to try and make that case would be folly

      • Most DPT programs are a joke, I would rather have one of the old school PT’s without advanced degrees. The DPT programs have been dumbed down and speed up solely to earn the Doctorate degree to appease the MD’s that complained about direct access by PT’s. Which in turn forced the PT’s to whine about AT’s not having a Master’s degree, thereby forcing ATC to pursue Master’s degrees. Some of which are a farce as entry level AT programs where the student will never be left alone to work with patients until they have a ‘masters degree’ and they are somehow more qualified than someone like me that has 10 years of experience working in professional sports and no Master’s degree.

  19. I worked as an athletic trainer with a masters degree but decided to get a PTA degree. That instantly took my yearly pay up by 25 percent! Athletic training salaries are a joke when you factor in the time/stress .

  20. Bob is a perfect example of the need to educate people on our education level and qualifications! I hardly think an aa degree should boost an ATC salary by 25% when 70% have a masters degree!

    • Your education level does not equal a d(this is for doctor fyi) of physical therapy. You cannot get jobs with a masters in pt now…. They have a doctorate with one year more in than even a pa.

      This doesn’t equal a masters no matter how you want to phrase it.

      • Bob I hate to say you are misinformed and not comparing apples to apples. A Doctorate of PT is a terminal degree. So yes you are correct a DPT has more schooling than an ATC. But not all PTs are DPT. A person with a PT has LESS schooling than an Athletic Trainer with a PhD.

        So apples to apples. Athletic Trainers, OT, and PT have the same schooling requirements (4 year degree with clinicals and a national certification exam). The exact same. While many programs are now DPT, it is not a requirement and many practicing PTs are just a PT. The same for OT – it is a 4 year degree.

        But let’s take your opening argument re: amount of schooling. A PT Assistant is a 2 year AA degree. Less schooling when compared to entry level Athletic training, yet the pay scale is significantly tipped to the PTA side.

        Now all that said, this is not a debate on who’s schooling is more arduous. It is a discussion about how Athletic Trainers are responsible for this mess and how they can improve their salary. Athletic Trainers are really damn good at what they do and it’s about time they get a salary to reflect that skill set.

  21. Josh, I agree with much of what you said. It is true that we as a membership have put ourselves in this position but the NATA much shoulder a large portion of the blame as well. A number of years ago when athletic trainers were challenging in court our status to be paid overtime based on the fair labor and standards act the National office and leadership made a conscience decision not to get in evolved. This is not my opinion but fact as told to me by Eve Becker Royal in a letter exchange that I had with her. These court cases went on for 10 years or better with different ATCs filing actions so the national leadership had plenty of time to get involved but chose not to. To me this is an outrage. I feel like the national office turned it’s back on the membership. A few years ago the NATA lost more members than it gained and for all I know it may still be happening. I know the report just came out in the NATA News that said we have been adding members but I didn’t see any stats listed in that report that said how many we lost each year. Regardless of that we all know people who are getting out of the profession for one reason or another and almost all of them go back to either the working conditions (typically too many hours, like don’t get to see my kids grow up or spend time with my family) or because of the low pay. From my experience the average ATC would be perfectly happy if they were either getting the time or the money, meaning if I’m working the 50 – 60 or more hour work week I’m getting paid overtime so I have something to show for it other than a warm feeling inside, or if you’re not willing to pay me then I get the time off. I’d work my 40 hours and take the weekend off. Yes, I did hear the collective gasp, 40 hours is he crazy? No he must just be lazy. Really? Why shouldn’t an athletic trainer work a 40 hour work week? Why shouldn’t an individual making medical decisions work a 40 hour work week? Tell me why a high school graduate should be able to go to Detroit and put lug nuts on a Cadillac and make more and have better benefits than a nationally certified college degreed professional? It would be a huge uphill battle to fight to change the fair labor and standards act especially after the folks at the national office let it get changed (after65 years) to our professions detriment but that is exactly what needs to be done. Let’s face it the majority of employers are not going to suddenly step up and do what’s right and pay us what we are worth unless they are forced to(federal law: fair labor and standards act). If we can’t do something to improve the working conditions for athletic trainers the ATCs are going to continue to leave the profession for better conditions elsewhere and eventually we are going to become insignificant as a profession. I am an educator and I struggle on a regular basis with trying to recruit students into this profession knowing what kinds of conditions they can expect to work under and say with a good heart come be an athletic trainer it’s a wonderful profession knowing all along what they’re in for. We need to quite wearing that ridiculous badge of courage and self pity that this is athletic training long hours and low pay and somehow being proud of that. We need to learn to have more self respect. This post has run very long but I think you understand where I’m coming from. Thank you for your time.

  22. Bob, the argument is not us against pts, the argument is that atc’s deserve pay comparable to their education and that is not happening!

  23. Josh – fabulous article & things I have been saying about our profession for the last 15 years – people pay these low salaries only because we take the jobs & allow them to do so.

    Bob’s comments are as welcome as a turd in a punch bowl. When you don’t understand the audience you’re about to speak to, you should keep your comments to yourself.

  24. One of the things that will help us to get a higher salary is the ability to bill insurance. Right now, athletic trainers are a drain on a school’s resources. We don’t bring in a profit. We just prevent the school from losing money to potential lawsuits. If we could bill insurance then we could earn our salary through treatment costs. It could make our jobs a lot harder, but depending on how we do it most places would be able to afford at least one secretary to handle the insurance claims. We really need to get medicare and medicaid to recognize sports medicine as a legitimate health care profession. If just those two organizations would recognize us then we would be well on our way to becoming a profitable profession. I could be wrong about that. It’s just the way I see it.

    • This is what I was going to post. AT is a money suck. Yes, it’s a great service, but it costs money, money most schools don’t have. PTA’s make more than AT’s because they are revenue producing. Clinics get reimbursed for their services. In CA (don’t know about other states), I can’t bill for AT services.

      2 ways AT salaries go up:
      1. their services are reimbursable from insurance companies
      2. there is some mandate (whether law or school district policy) that high schools to employ AT for their athletic programs, so that they have to budget for it. if this happens, it’s only a matter of time before club teams and little leagues start to utilize AT regularly.

      these are the 2 things NATA should be focused on in the salary fight

      re: matthew’s post: medicare and Medicaid should not be the target. The vast majority of AT will not treat medicare patients, and there is no money in Medicaid. But to his point, somehow the NATA should fight for the ability for AT to use CPT codes and get reimbursed for them.

      and in a slightly related topic, The APTA will fight the NATA about that specific ability. They will argue AT’s do not have the ability to design and implement an effective plan of care (for several reasons). As a PT/ATC, that teaches both PT and AT students, I would agree with that sentiment. But there is no reason that AT can’t function in the same capacity as PTA in the rehab realm. And NATA should fight for AT specific CPT codes related to emergent care and AT specific independent rehab (vs rehab under the supervision of a physician or PT) (I know i’ll catch flak for this last thought, but it’s true).

      • I completely agree with you on your points. One of the significant reasons for the low pay grade includes our inability to bill for our services. My athletes and my students are routinely impressed by what they see and do in the athletic training facility every single day, and we have earned a great respect from our colleagues and athletes at the college I work at. However, it took years of elbow grease, frustration, as well as many meetings of salary comparison and research, in addition to working at 150% every single day to get here. We can’t sit back and wait for someone else to fight the fight- it’s up to US to demonstrate who we are and what we can do.
        Additionally- and this applies to EVERY. SINGLE. ATHLETIC TRAINER. DO NOT allow yourself to be called a “trainer.” Gently and politely correct the offender, and if necessary, provide an explanation of our knowledge base and abilities. Continuing to perpetuate this terminology will only prolong the growth of the profession and the public’s ability to distinguish between a certified athletic trainer and a personal trainer.

  25. Josh, Thank you for composing this article/post! Absolutely love your thoughts on the topic and I urge all my team members and AT students to begin learning the art of negotiations using factual data. I cringe when I learn about these low-wage jobs that are being filled so easily by ATCs! Though I have never put a lot of stock in the NATA, I agree this is an issue that can only be changed/improved by the individual. Self accountability my friends! Sure you may take issue with how the NATA is managed, but they are not the enemy in this situation…we are! I also believe that in order to make a more unified jump to more desirable wages we need to see changes in health insurance that bring AT services into the mix as commonly reimbursed services. Imagine if we can get the majority of insurance companies paying us for services! We would help level out that playing field to a certain extent and see more jobs open up with better wages. That’s my honest opinion and belief. Sure, other things might happen that weren’t expected….but I think getting our profession into the insurance game in a more legitimate fashion is the pink elephant in the room. I’ve worked in a clinic (in a State) where my services as an AT were billable. My salary was much higher than other AT jobs in that same region where the clinic or hospital failed to see the value of having their ATs seeing patients. But I digress. Learn how to negotiate and reap the rewards!

  26. Why is anyone surprised by an $8.00/hr position? A full-time position which pays $25,000/yr and averages 60 hours a week makes $8.01/hr.

    If you want to work in collegiate athletics, then you’re going to work extremely long hours and get paid poorly. Just like the SID’s, equipment managers, athletic administrators, and most coaches – this is just the environment. Most staff members in college athletics (besides the AD and the football/basketball coaches) are not well paid – there are plenty of SIDs making $25k. Before you argue that AT’s are different because we are medical professionals, how much do you pay your team physicians??

    As has been said by many others, it’s basic economics.

  27. Great post Josh! I agree that these injuries to our profession are largely self-inflicted. I feel all too often we give away our profession when looking for a job, but I feel we short-change ourselves and cheapen our profession on the front end by giving away our skills in the academic setting when we open our “Prevention and Care” or “Intro to Athletic Training” courses to those who have no intention at all of entering the AT profession. We open our courses to those who do not plan to be in our field (PE majors, any college student who needs a few credits to fill up a schedule, high school students in a weekend “clinic”, etc)–willingly teach them skills in taping, evaluation,and rehab techniques–and then wonder why we are not seen as the premier healthcare professional to treat the physically active! We dilute the marketplace with nonprofessionals who can legitimately list on their resume/transcript a cursory understanding of athletic injury management and then we are perplexed why the salaries remain low. What other healthcare discipline routinely teaches an “Intro” class to those not in the field? Have you ever seen an “Intro to Nursing” course on a college campus given to those who were not accepted into the nursing program? How many “Intro to Orthopedics” classes have you seen offered by the local medical school open to the public? If so many can do “our” skills, how can we market those skills as unique and how do we market ourselves as unique professionals if our skills base is diluted across such a huge section of the population. (I do not mean to imply certain skills are “ours” solely as ATs–most belong to the healthcare professions in general–but when we voluntarily give them away to those outside the healthcare field, it cheapens the value of those skills for everyone who uses them.) It is a case of supply and demand: if the supply of those with a certain skill set is high, the demand (and pay) for those positions is not going to be very high.

  28. One person making a stand does not make a difference. Multiple people making stands alone do not make a difference. I know this goes against common sense, everything we have seen in movies, and the American way, but it is true. How do I know you ask, because I have made my stand more than once and there has been no effect anywhere.

    When I was younger I took low paying positions to gain professional experience to improve my worth in the profession. I eventually left those low paying positions for a position making $50K, but was the sole ATC at a DI University with 15 sports. I was basically working on call 24/7 and was allowed little to no time off. I fought to get other ATC’s on staff, finally gaining one in April (very near the end of the school year) and had started the process of creating GA positions. There was a change in Athletic Directors and that deal was squashed. I voiced my concerns about the safety of the student athletes and was told “two ATC’s are enough to provide coverage” when I disagreed I was told to take it or leave it. I left. I had to wait tables for a year because I could not find any full time ATC positions or if I did the salaries were not livable.

    I am sure I am not the only ATC with examples like these, I am sure I am not the only one that made the same decisions, decisions that should have helped the profession. As individuals making these stands we offer very little to effect the outcome of the situation. I feel ATC’s need to become unionized in order to be taken seriously…nurses have a union, why can’t we? It is obvious the NATA is not going to help, nor is the BOC. The changes that need to take place need to start at the state of district level and need total involvement by its members, but this may not be enough because ATC’s are willing to move to where the work is and may not be members of that district when applying for a job everyone else in the district has refused due to the uncompetitive salary.

    But I digress, there will be two camps on this topic, those that are happy with their salaries and those of us that are struggling and no amount of arguing or facts will change the way either side feels. I just hope that one day those of us that are struggling to earn what we are worth will get together for a combined voice that will be heard. Until that day, keep busting your jump just to get by.

  29. I’ve been an ATC for 25 years and I don’t think the low-salary situation is anything new. When I was an undergrad (late 80s), I remember our GAs considering D1/D2 full-time college assistant AT jobs for $12-14k/year. Even in the 80’s, $12k/year wasn’t very much! My first job out of undergrad was at a clinic for $18k. I had the chance to go to PT or PA school, but instead chose to get my masters in Athletic Training (ahh, hindsight).

    A lot of the Athletic Trainers who came before us thought nothing of working 60 or 70 hours/week and scoffed at the PTs and PTAs who refused to work outside of a “Mon-Fri, 9-5” schedule. Unfortunately, back then while the ATs were working, the PTs were planning. Does anyone remember 15 years ago when the job market for PTs was horrible? 1 in 3 new-grad PTs changed professions because they couldn’t find a PT job. How did the APTA respond? They limited the number of new grads nationally, spent a lot of money on lobbying and marketed the heck out of their profession. A couple years ago I was talking to a PT about my difficulty in recruiting PTs for several open positions. I suggested the APTA make larger class sizes and release more grads. He replied that he liked it just the way it was because he needed to pay off his boat and summer cottage. As Paul said, it’s all about supply & demand.

    Today we find ourselves in a situation where the PTs are in a position to dictate the terms of physical medicine & rehabilitation services (including PM&R to athletes). Because of this, they are able to earn big money without ever having to prove themselves simply because of the initials after their name. In fact, not only have they effectively driven us out of “their” domain of the clinic, they are starting to work their way into “our” domain of the athletic training room. How many NFL teams currently have at least one PT on their “sports medicine” staff?

    I’m afraid that we, as a profession, are past the point of “expecting” or “demanding” anything simply because of our degrees. And unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere by comparing ourselves to other health care professionals.

    I’m currently in a management position over a hospital rehab department and I deal with DPTs and masters-level ATCs “expecting” and “demanding” things based on their degrees and credentials. Guess who wins that fight 100% of the time? The ATCs refuse to do anything extra because the “PTs & PTAs don’t have to.” I tell them to stop comparing themselves to the PTs (and PTAs & RNs & PAs & FNPs) and they accuse me of being disloyal to “our profession.” In reality my administration has been trying to eliminate their positions for the past several years. I’m afraid I’m eventually going to lose that battle and it will be a sad day when I have to replace another ATC with a PTA.

    For the AT educators out there… Stop telling your students they are better than anyone else and start telling them to BE better than everyone else. The only thing they “deserve” is a chance to prove themselves, and to keep proving themselves. Tell them to get involved and start shaping the NATA of the 2020’s. We’re pretty far behind in the race and we’re continuing to lose ground, but I believe things can turn around if we stop comparing ourselves and our profession to everyone else and take control of our own future.

  30. The blog is thought provoking and righteous. Im not going to restate whats been said. As I agree and recognize the disparities in pay and the economics of it. A good dialogue, however, after reading it, we should take a step back and consider something. The other value of athletic training, and Id like to share something amongst us all that might throw some gas on the fire after such an article that is somewhat demoralizing. We can’t change the law of supply and demand, but, collectively, with or without the NATA, we can show how we are different within our own communities.

    My brothers and sisters….

    There is one thing that separates us from a PT. Emergency care and management of catastrophic injuries; including concussions. For the most part the principles of rehab aren’t any different between what an AT or PT learns. But…

    WE ARE DIFFERENT. You had to earn that ATC after your name; and, you had other classes than just rehab, or therapeutic exercise. We are dynamic and versatile, and most importantly, protectors of life. . ATs should never lose sight that you are more than just taping, rehab and while they practice, you are the one that is “minding the flock”.

    Believe in this, and share with others when you are asked, what are you worth…

    I am a Certified Athletic Trainer, and I am of greater value to you than what you think. If you hire me, you will be entrusting to me the most precious thing on this earth. Your students, your children, your parents, your sons, your daughters to me. What is that worth to you? No matter what the score, no matter what the weather. No matter how tired, cold, or hungry I may be, recognize that I am what stands between life and death on this field. Im an athletic trainer, and I am more than water, more than tape. I am a recognized healthcare professional. Who else can do this job or which one of you will run towards the screams of and IED like the ATs and athletic training students did in Boston? Who is going to triage the wounded and plug that gun shot wound in a middle/high school student when you have an active shooter waiting for EMS to come? When your coach goes into cardiac arrest, or someones son suffers commdio cordis, which among you is willing to take responsibility and act when the time comes? Can you detect a partially collapsed lung, or manage that brain stem contusion from a lax ball to the base of the skull? Should the team bus be in an accident, which of you wants a PTA or a PT to be on that bus to manage those injuries? Which of you wants to make that call on the sidelines, at the State Championships that someones son or daughter should sit because of a concussion, then have it out with the ignorant coach to protect the player for the sake of their parents, to say nothing of protecting the institution that sits across from me now? This is why you want a Certified Athletic Trainer, not a PT, or PTA. That is why I’m sitting across this desk from you and they aren’t, because of who I chose to be. Remember one thing, I promise you this, in the end, I will be there for my team/patient/staff member/service member in every victory, or death. It is more than tape, water, and rehab. It is about placing the lives of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters in my hands. Its protecting yours and your job as well. Im a Certified Athletic Trainer. What is that worth to you?


    • Derek, I completely agree with what you’re saying – that ATCs should be recognized as the gold athletic emergency responders (to paraphrase your excellent description). Unfortunately, there are some states with scopes of practice which permit PTs (and sometimes others) to practice in this (our) domain.

      My state recently enacted legislation regarding concussion management of athletes, and the definition of who can care for an athlete with a concussion (including return-to-play clearance) includes PTs and Chiropractors because of the way they defined “licensed healthcare professionals). I think RNs may also be included.

      I know of a situation in another state where a PT (who is an instructor in a university PT program) regularly goes out and “covers” sporting events. This guy isn’t an ATC, but he took a couple continuing ed classes on spinal injury and concussion management and has deemed himself qualified to do these things – and it’s all within his “scope of practice” because in order for the AT licensure legislation to get passed, the PTs forced a loophole so that they could practice in our domain, but we can’t practice in theirs.

      The PTs used to complain that we were infringing on their “turf” by working in clinics, and now it seems as though they are paying us back in spades!

  31. I remember my undergrad cirriculum director saying that the reason Athletic Trainers make $25,000 a year is because someone is always willing to take the job. He also said that it is a mentality that needed to change a long time ago. I knew that I would never be a wealthy man as an athletic trainer, which seemed reasonable before I had a family, but then reality set in. My wife is also and ATC and when we decided to start a family I quickly realized that something had to change. I loved being an athletic trainer, but I love my family more. I miss it to this day, but instead of fighting a perceived losing battle I decided to use my education and knowledge to begin a career as an orthopedic sales rep. This is only one of the many avenues that an ATC can explore to have a successful career. I continue to use my knowledge everyday in surgery with doctors and I feel that I can continue to help patients, just in a different way. And for any of the condescending PT’s/OT’s reading this, you only wish you could make as much money as this ex ATC is making.

  32. This is exactly the reason I left this career. The insurance industry thinks ATC’s aren’t trained enough to pay for billable services that are given in a PT clinic. Until the NATA can figure out how to correct this ATC’s will always be the low man on the totem pole. I feel bad for ATC’s today. It doesn’t matter what credentials you have the pay will always be sub-par. I miss not being an ATC, I LET MY LICENSE EXPIRE. I wasn’t going to go back to that stressful and liable job plus now I can provide for my family with a different career.

  33. This can also be said for graduate assistants trying to earn a masters and be competive in the job market. It is as if we need to accept that we need to work 35+ hours a week, but a contract that we sign states that we are to work 20 hours and will only be paid for 20 hours a week! From the beginning of our careers we are in a false reality, but are we dont know any better because thats what we see during student observations and are eager to work and make a positive impression.

  34. I have been an ATC for 15 years and really do love my job of working in both the PT rehab side and with HS athletes. As for the $8.00 an hour job, i really dont know who in their right mind would take that, but i also don’t know how badly they might need it.
    Over the years i have known some Incredibly intellegent PT that do outstanding work, but I have also seen the other side of things where the treating therapist just does the same treatment over and over again for weeks until the patient is out of benifits. When i do see that, i like to ask the therapist if we can start a more functional exercise plan and advance the pt. Usually this is welcomed and the patient responds well referring more buisness. Overall, this doesn’t help my pay in the short term, but it shows some of my knowledge on the treatment side and it develops a mutual respect from the PTs. Over the years and being with the same employer for 13 years has put me in a reasonable comfortable position. I dont expect to make as much as PTs and i definitely dont want their job with the mountain of paperwork that is needed. Between insurance companies looking for any reason not to pay and the government reducing payment for services making everybody jump through hoops to get paid. It wouldn’t suprise me if PT’s saleries get stagnant or start dropping with new grads coming into the field.
    As for my athletes and students that are interested in becoming an ATC i tell them like it is. You will not get rich and you’ll work a ton of hours. Raising a family will be extremely difficult and when your sick and running a fever throwing up and your the only ATC, well that football game is still on the schedule. Granted maybe you can find coverage, but all the ATCs in your area all have the same game schedule, so your just going to have to suck it up.
    As for the furture of my profession, i don’t see any big changes happening for the better. The entire healthcare system is not about making the patient better, its all about money. Personally, i would much rather work one on one with an athlete towards getting them better, stronger, faster and having that satisfaction of making a difference in their lives then just going through the motions and making a bigger salary then the patient or athlete is just brought to a level of their ADL’s.
    The only other advise i give students interested in becoming an ATC is to take courses or read a lot of books on investing their money. If you can’t make the paycheck then pay yourself. Sorry thats a little off topic, but something that most people know nothing about.

  35. This blog post sounds like numerous conversations I have had with classmates and colleagues over the years (many of whom are no longer ATCs). While I have only been an ATC for a few years, I have quickly come to realize that if I want my salary to reflect my love for this profession, I would need amazing negotiating skills or I should choose a similar profession (PT). Unfortunately, negotiating can only go so far when there are numerous applicants with similar experiences and skills who are willing to take far less than what you’re expecting. I decided to go into PT school not for the title or money, but to ensure that I have less of a chance to be undervalued with my knowledge (plus being an ATC/PT can open more doors).

    It’s sad when I go to conferences and so many people I know are there simply for networking because they can’t find a decent job that pays well. So many people I know would have rather gone into PT school (because many people decided that they only wanted to work with athletes and not ‘old people’), teach, or get into sales.

    The Athletic Training profession (and I’m talking about the members here) needs to make a serious change. The ones with good paying jobs won’t rock the boat because they’re living well. The ones who have bad paying jobs where they work 60+ hours a week including weekends are too mentally drained to take a stand against the NATA or congress or whoever. The newly graduated AT with a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s still believes that they will get a job as the Head AT at a D1 school or professional team not even realizing the sacrifices they will have to make. So who’s going to do it? Who do we talk to? Congress? the President of the United States? Seriously, from reading everyone’s post here, the trend has been the same since the 1980s, so who’s to say things will change now?

    I’m hoping that I find reason to keep my license and membership with the NATA after I graduate from PT school. Like DSATCPES said earlier, there are things that all ATCs can do that PTs can’t. But if those things include being overworked and underpaid, then I will no longer keep my membership. The fact that the NATA is only 30000 members strong considering how many schools there are in this country that teach Athletic Training should be alarming, don’t you think?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s