IDAHO — March is National Athletic Training Month, and usually, athletic trainers are doing their work in the background.
"Our work happens behind the scenes," Chris Walsh, University of Idaho Director of Athletic Training said. "When you do see us it's because somebody got injured or something bad happened."
But, the pandemic has brought light to the work they are doing to get sports back safely.
“This has been one of the most challenging and hardest things to take on,” Walsh said.
“A critical role that athletic trainers have served is being essential to healthcare, and essential to providing competent meaningful care to patients and athletes,” Matthew Smitley, Master of Science of Athletic Training Program (MAST) Director said.
Athletic trainers across the nation and here in Idaho are leading the way for athletes to compete again.
“We can be used in a lot of different areas, and we are very useful in a lot of different areas," Walsh said. "We aren't just PTs or strength coaches. We dabble in a lot of different areas.”
But, because of the pandemic athletic trainers have taken on many different roles beyond preventative and immediate care.
They're monitoring athletes and coaches, testing them every week, and making sure they have a healthy return to play plan.
“That has added a lot to what we do in our daily lives. Symptom checking, daily screenings, and constant monitoring. It has really become a job in itself,” Walsh said.
“We are able to be versatile in what we do and being able to step in and fill meaningful roles that are needed in other healthcare fields or gaps in the system," Smitley said. "When there is a particular patient care setting be it a hospital, athletic trainers are able to step in there and help or if we are trying to navigate policy and procedure with this athletic trainers are able to serve and be an active voice in those conversations."
With the unknown of COVID-19, it hasn't been an easy task to navigate.
“We were really kind of writing the book for it," Walsh said. "There was a lot of coordination especially starting with campus, public health and from a national standpoint relying on our colleagues.”
“If an athlete has gone through COVID we need to make sure that somebody is there to guide them through the return to play process because it is not just a cold where you are better and then you just return to play," Smitley said. "There are a lot of steps and a lot of things that play into that as well like cardiac screenings."
A critical job during such a difficult time, but one they know has to be done.
“Athletics drives a lot of the infrastructure and the economic impact for entire regions, and the amount of jobs that provides. If they don’t have that it’s a huge economic downfall," Smitley said. "So providing policy procedure that clarifies what safer return to play, return to practice and helping the people involved is critical."
"It has been a time where a lot of people have thrown in the towel and say we arent going to do this and we will just wait it out," Walsh said. "We said we will give it a shot. I really think that we have gotten through it and that has been really neat to see how much you can do and how much you can take on."
Beyond what athletic trainers have been able to accomplish the industry as a whole is growing.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, athletic trainers are set to increase by 16%, much faster than average in the coming years.
"Our field is growing. They are in our tactical medical settings so that would be police and fire departments, in emergency medical services, and performing arts," Smitley said. "We have a lot of athletic trainers that are affiliated with touring groups or with large theme parks things like that."