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Seventy Percent of Public High Schools Found to Have Access to Athletic Trainers

Over the past two decades, high school student-athletes' access to athletic trainers has doubled, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Athletic Training earlier this month.

The study authors contacted all 14,951 public high schools across the nation from September 2011 through December 2013 with a survey gauging their access to athletic trainers. Of the 8,509 schools that responded to the survey, 5,930 (70 percent) reported having athletic-training services, and 86 percent of all student-athletes—roughly 2.4 million out of 2.8 million—had access to athletic trainers.

Thirty-seven percent of schools nationwide (3,145) had full-time athletic trainers on staff, while 31 percent had part-time ATs and 2 percent had per diem ATs. Just over 4,000 schools reported having full practice coverage every afternoon. Overall, a greater number of large high schools offered athletic-training services than small schools—schools with ATs had an average of 432 student-athletes, while those without averaged 175 student-athletes.

"It is vital for schools to have appropriate sports medicine care during games and practices to ensure sports safety of high school student athletes," said study co-author Douglas J. Casa, the chief operating officer of the Korey Stringer Institute, in a statement. "While many schools need to enhance coverage for appropriate care and some schools still need to begin having ATs on staff, the momentum shows strong movement forward. This trend can and will have lifesaving consequences."

The study did have a few limitations, however, which could lead to somewhat inflated numbers. Each school's athletic director determined whether full- and part-time athletic-training services were present based on game and practice coverage and employment status at the school. Accordingly, "athletic directors may have mistakenly considered an employee who teaches during the day and covers some practices and games to be a full-time athletic trainer," the study suggests.

Additionally, the survey did not ask whether each school's athletic trainer(s) were certified, licensed, or registered. Some schools' athletic directors responded by saying they were their school's athletic trainer, despite having no athletic-training education or training, according to the study.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) introduced bills in their respective chambers of Congress that would authorize a five-year grant program to help states ensure that schools are "adequately staffed with athletic trainers and other medical professionals" necessary to implement guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, and management of student-athletes' mild traumatic brain injuries. The bills are currently residing in congressional committees, with no action having been taken on either since late January.

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