Americans enjoy sports – for fun, exercise, community-building and comradery. It induces the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. From championships to catastrophic injuries, athletic trainers are present to keep participants safe and engaged in activity.
The Centers for Disease Control indicates that the overall injury rate of all high school sports is 2.44 injuries per 1,000 athlete exposures. Injury rates in collegiate sports are two to six times higher. For 20 years, medical committees, rules committees, and researchers have used this data to drive the development, implementation and evaluation of injury prevention programs.
Health care providers on the front lines of athletic injury treatment and prevention are athletic trainers – the first responders for acute injuries and medical emergencies.
Certified Athletic Trainers (ATCs) are often confused with personal trainers, but their education, skill set, and job functions are different. An ATC must have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and be certified by the Board of Certification of Athletic Trainers. All ATCs also are licensed by the North Dakota Board of Athletic Trainers. The American Medical Association and Department of Health and Human Services both recognize ATCs as allied health professionals.
Trinity Health’s Sports Medicine Department consists of 15 ATCs who practice in collaboration with physicians and health team members who keep the welfare of patients their top priority. Athletic trainers provide primary care, injury and illness prevention, wellness promotion and education, emergency care, examination and clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention and rehabilitation of injuries and medical conditions. Not only are the responsibilities encompassing and diverse, but Trinity’s Sports Medicine team travels the region caring for athletes with Minot Public Schools, Minot State University, Minotauros Hockey, Sabre Dogs Baseball, Minot Youth Baseball, Dakota College at Bottineau, as well as 10 other area high schools.
“There used to be off seasons between sports, but there’s no such thing anymore,” said Darren Armstrong, manager of Sports Medicine and Exercise Physiology. “Our people work long hours and really hard.”
ATCs cover practices, training room hours, and conduct follow-up visits to injured athletes. They travel with teams at the high school and college level and attend home games of sporting events in Minot. Ask Armstrong who’s working a game, and he reaches for his athletic trainer schedule, which is a multicolored calendar where each color represents someone assigned to a specific event. It resembles a vibrant rainbow after a very long rain.
“It’s the only way we can keep track, which is important for athlete follow up and sharing injury protocol amongst our staff. We use documentation software that lets our staff share athlete injury information in a Health Information safe environment,” he said. “Athletes, parents and coaches expect that our team communicates with each other so that our plan and message is consistent for the evaluation and recovery plan of an athlete.”
In 2021, Trinity Health ATCs added a new role to their arsenal of patient care: assisting COVID-19 testers at drive through sites and maintaining COVID- safe versions of programs for high school and college athletes. The drive through testing went away; COVID safety protocol did not.
“Our athletic trainers do pre-competition COVID testing for college athletes before they board the bus. We are responsible for tracking and verifying positive tests, maintaining state reporting requirements, providing a safe environment in training rooms and identifying COVID symptoms,” Armstrong said.
“What we need to do changes weekly, but we’ve been willing to adjust according to the science and governing bodies’ suggestions, while maintaining a safe environment for our athletes to compete in.”
Trinity’s Sports Medicine Department is closely tied to its medical director, Dr. Dawn Mattern. Dawn Mattern, MD, FAMSSM, is a board-certified Family Practice/Sports Medicine specialist and a Fellow in the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. She’s been with the department almost 20 years and shares that the goal of sports medicine is to restore people to life and activity.
“Athletic trainers are my go-to multi-tools. They are able to keep all of our kids as safe as possible as well as work with them through injury or illness. They can be an athlete’s confidant-advocate-therapist- parent-coachmotivator-protector-lifesaver all in one,” she said.