Career of an Athletic Trainer in the Industrial Setting
Level 1: Amateur
Welcome Players! The value of an Athletic Trainer has grown beyond the role it was intended to fill. This post is guest-written by a Certified Athletic Trainer who has found professional and personal success in the Industrial Setting. She describes her experience that led her there, why she stayed, and gives a profound message to all current and future young-professionals who find that the traditional setting no longer serves them.
Please welcome Natalie Centeno to the writer’s circle!
Coaches note: This article is written entirely by Natalie. It has been lightly edited for clarity to the reader by me. All emphasis (bold, italics, etc.) has been added by me. Comments included by me have been delineated with the quotation box in green, such as this paragraph.
Master’s of Athletic Training
Life, Relationships, & COVID
Life as an Industrial Athletic Trainer
Part of the Job
Message to You
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My first experience as an Athletic Trainer (AT) was in high school. I became a student AT for the football team for a couple of years and loved it. The head AT at the time was an amazing mentor and taught me a lot.
After graduating high school I was undecided on what I wanted to pursue as a career so I attended Miami-Dade College to work on my Associates degree.
During that time I got into fitness and fell in love with it. Once I graduated I decided I wanted to pursue it further so I enrolled in a Bachelors of Education degree in Sports & Fitness at a nearby university.
I knew I wanted to continue my education and pursue a Masters degree but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to get it in. My dad actually brought up the idea of a Masters in Athletic Training and it brought back that spark I had while working as an AT student in high school.
Masters of AT
When I decided on pursuing a Masters degree in Athletic Training, I was all in.
I loved learning about the body and everything that comes with an Athletic Trainer's skill set: injuries, treatment, prevention, building relationships and helping others, the list goes on.
I had heard all the usual negative comments about the profession - pay issues, the lack of work/life balance, etc. - but wanted to pursue it anyway. I loved what I was learning and wanted to be able to help others.
Despite enjoying what I was learning at times I felt like one of the few outcasts in the program. I knew from pretty early on that I didn’t want to work in the traditional settings (high school/collegiate/professional sports), so I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I was working two jobs and attending clinical rotations full-time throughout the program. It was exhausting. I knew work-life balance was something I needed to have once graduating because of my experience in school.
I attended my classes and would leave immediately after to go to one of my jobs, where others stayed behind and studied or attended extracurricular program meetings, etc. That was something others noticed and didn’t like which made it difficult for me at times but I passed my classes and graduated just like everyone else.
My clinical rotations were where I felt I got really lucky with the best preceptors. I was able to learn so much from them and got plenty of hands-on experience.
My first rotation was working two semesters with Men’s Basketball which I loved - but still didn't see myself doing it permanently. I then worked one semester as a Physician Extender - this was the route I was hoping to take once graduating. From there I worked one semester at a high school working Fall sports and two semesters working Baseball which I also really enjoyed.
Physician Extender in Clinic
When I graduated I was immediately contacted by the office where I did my clinical rotation for a job opportunity as a Physician Extender. I was selected by one of the Orthopedic Surgeons to work as an Athletic Trainer in his clinic.
We had set hours Monday-Friday and no weekend work. It allowed for a positive work-life balance, good benefits, and a team of amazing Athletic Trainers around me at all times working for many different doctors.
As a Physician Extender I helped run the Doctor’s clinic. When he was in the Operating Room (OR) on his surgery days I would be assigned to another doctor to help in their clinic.
Overall, I enjoyed my time in this setting. I feel so lucky to have worked with the doctor I worked with - a true genius in the exam and operating rooms - someone I keep in contact with to this day. I learned so much from him and all of the other physicians there about specific injuries, different surgical procedures, and rehab protocols.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity they gave me to expand my knowledge on orthopedic injuries. The one thing I truly missed while working in that setting was the hands-on part of Athletic Training. I missed working one-on-one with others to help resolve their aches & pains, and all the challenges presented when someone comes to you with an injury.
As much as I enjoyed that setting, I felt as if there was something missing, something more that I could be doing to better help others.
Life, Partner, & COVID
Almost three years after graduating and working as a Physician Extender, my boyfriend (who is a Soccer coach) was presented with a job-opportunity in Boston.
My family and friends are a huge part of my life but aside from them I didn’t have anything holding me back from making the move. I felt like it was perfect timing for me to find a new job where I could continue to grow as an individual and as a professional.
I looked online for job opportunities in Boston where I found typical high school AT jobs and stretching studios which all offered awful pay. But I also saw postings for jobs in the Industrial setting - something that was BARELY mentioned or discussed in school.
I knew I needed a job before moving so I applied to the Industrial setting position and figured I could always find something else once moved there. I was interviewed and was offered the job immediately!
Two weeks after moving to a brand new city - the pandemic hit and everything shut down. Luckily for me, the job I had just taken was to be the Athletic Trainer / “Medic” on a construction site.
The site I was working on was an addition to a hospital so it was considered essential work. I worked every day of the pandemic along with all the construction workers putting the building together.
It was a stressful time; moving to a new city in the middle of a pandemic with every protocol in place that you can imagine AND working in an entirely new setting and role.
I was able to adapt well, as most Athletic Trainers do, and 3 years later I’m still working in this setting!
Life as an Industrial Athletic Trainer
I work for a third-party company that is contracted by construction companies to provide injury care on job sites (usually Athletic Trainers or EMTs).
Every job site is different, but for me usual hours are Monday-Friday, 6:00am-3:00pm. I’m on the same job site until it is complete - depending on the size of the project I can be on a specific job site anywhere from 2-7 years and oversee anywhere from 50-700+ workers.
I immediately noticed that starting pay is significantly more in this setting. I did have to factor in cost of living, and Boston can be more expensive than Miami, but even so, the pay was greater in this setting.
I learned that with this company specifically there is room for growth not only in salary, but in your role as well. There are opportunities to move into managerial roles over time. Benefits are offered and are comparable to the Physician Extender setting.
A quick search sees that the pay for an Industrial Athletic Trainer is significantly higher than a Traditional Athletic Trainer. Glassdoor reports that the average salary for an Industrial AT is $58.5k with a projected total pay of $63k. The range given is $55k to as high as potentially $80k - and I have confirmed from other Industrial Athletic Trainers they have been able to raise their salary to >$100k/year in less than 5 years in the industry. This setting comes with a stable schedule and no supplementary qualifications.
Part of the Job
As Student-Athletic Trainers we are taught that an Athletic Trainer’s role and skillset are comprised of a very specific set of things. You can see the NATA’s description of these things here. But as you’re finding out, an Athletic Trainer is capable of so much more. Natalie has adapted to being capable of providing comprehensive care that far exceeds the things taught in a traditional program. It’s a shining example of how the foundation of Athletic Training is rooted in so much more than Athletics. Below she details some of the most important responsibilities of her job.
As the Athletic Trainer, or “medic” on the job site, I triage and treat all injuries that occur there. This can be anything from emergency care, strains/sprains, lacerations, eye injuries, splinters - you name it I cover it.
The goal is to treat injuries on site. We do have a doctor we work directly with in the event that an injured worker needs outside evaluation or treatment (fractures, stitches, etc). We also work with a medical director who oversees all injuries and the site safety manager who assists with claims and all workers-compensation related issues.
By having an Athletic Trainer on site treating injuries we save the worker lost time and the issue of having to seek treatment outside of work.
We also save the company lost time and money by treating the injuries ourselves and not having any medical bills for them to have to pay.
This is one of the largest pieces of leverage Athletic Trainers in workplace-based settings have. In the Industrial setting Natalie can create a report of all injuries she’s treated in the past year, calculate how many missed days of work due to injury or workers compensation she’s PREVENTED and/or REDUCED (compared to norms or national averages), and then present that to her employer as a DIRECT demonstration of value. 1
For the business owner saving money from reducing costs & liabilities is just as good as generating money from revenue line items. This is where Natalie’s role shines. She can make the company more money by having workers performing at a higher output and missing less work-days due to injury. When the owner of that company is evaluating their P&L, make no mistake Natalie’s work does not go unnoticed. Her value is reflected in her pay based on her performance. If she was not good at her job, ie. had a high rate of injury or high number of days missed due to injury, she would either be getting paid a lot less or would be out of a job altogether.
Comparatively in Athletics, the revenue is generated from entertainment. Whether Player A is hurt or not will not directly affect the revenue that team/sport produces. And although we know that an injury to a star player can severely affect the chance at that team winning a championship, it is not something that can be measured and traced back to an impact of an Athletic Trainer. For better or worse, an Athletics team makes the same amount of money regardless of who or how good the Athletic Trainer is. Whether we like it or not, this is how AT’s are currently viewed from a business operations perspective.
For reference, here is a 2003(!) study conducted by the NATA on AT’s in the Industrial Setting.
Do you notice how they have a finite Return on Investment (ROI)? Something that is nearly impossible to do in the Athletics setting. This study is now TWENTY (20!) years old, and yet Industrial Athletic Training is still considered an “emerging” setting. Why?
Providing information on general wellness is also a big part of the job, especially here in Boston. Each month I select a different topic and provide the workforce with information in the form of presentations, “tool-box talks”, fliers, challenges/competitions, or events in order to help the aging workforce create better habits and healthier choices.
The goal is to help them be the best version of themselves not only while on the job, but more importantly when they go home to their families. Some of these topics include heart health, strains/sprains, nutrition, exercise, sun safety, stress management, hydration, heat illness, etc.
I also help with non-work related injuries or issues. This can be anything from wound care, home exercise programs for low-back, knee, shoulder (etc) pain, nutrition guidance, workout programs, mental health resources, and so much more.
Although the issues may have nothing to do with the job, I am there to help them and treat them. A huge part of this job is building relationships with the workforce. Once that trust is built, they are able to open up and come to you for any issues they may be having, and truly appreciate having someone available to them for anything they may need.
Men in construction have the greatest suicide rate of any industry - 4x higher than the general population. In the 2018 construction industry alone there were 1008 accidents, and 5242 suicides. Those are huge numbers.2
Part of my role is to create a judge-free, safe space for those who may be suffering.3
We host events where the trades’ employee assistance programs come out and talk to the workers about their benefits and about the importance of breaking the stigma when it comes to mental health and substance misuse.
I constantly promote the importance of taking care of your mental health and seeking help when needed. I provide resources, find therapists or doctors covered by their insurance, and even schedule appointments for them as lack of time is a big barrier to getting help.
The key to a stronger workforce is injury prevention. Each morning I run the workers through a “Stretch & Flex” program where we perform a full-body dynamic warm-up and use resistance bands to complete shoulder strengthening exercises prior to starting the work day.
The goal of this is to lower the risk of musculoskeletal injury and to get everyone moving and ready to go for the day. Observation of specific work tasks throughout the day are also done in order to assist with any ergonomic challenges workers may be having.
Overall, the biggest part of this role is communication and building relationships - letting these hard working individuals know you are there for them and that you care about them and their wellbeing. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by people in the field that they have never had anyone like me on a jobsite, not only with the skill set that I have as an Athletic Trainer, but they have never had someone actually care about them personally or have anyone on site do the things that I do on a daily basis just to help them be the best version of themselves.
As an Athletic Trainer, these workers are my team - they just play a different kind of sport. By keeping them healthy both physically and mentally, they can work harder, smarter, and live longer, happier lives when they leave the job.
That’s the goal!
You can really see that an Industrial Athletic Trainer is the same job as a Traditional Athletic Trainer. Replace team with workforce; replace athlete with worker, replace coach with site safety manager, and you get almost the exact same job description: helping individuals navigate physical and mental health to perform their duty to the best of their ability. Natalie said it best: the workers are her team, they just play a different kind of sport!
Message to You
For me this setting has truly shown me how versatile Athletic Trainers can be and confirmed the necessity of our jobs. The variety of skills required for this position is something only an Athletic Trainer can provide.
From evaluation and treatment of injuries, prevention and ergonomic assistance, wellness and mental health, advocation and support (etc etc etc…) this setting and role is best filled with an Athletic Trainer - the jack of all trades.
Although Athletic Trainers in construction is a relatively new role, I truly wish that I had learned more about this setting when I was in school. I think it would have saved me a lot of stress and uncertainty over the years.
To any Athletic Training students out there who know the traditional settings aren’t for them - there ARE other options! Options where you have the freedom to build programs as you like or see fit, have work life balance, and make a difference.
I can honestly say that this has been the most fulfilling setting I have experienced. I feel as if I am truly making a difference here and across the workforce and hope to continue to do so for a long time.
Now that I have experienced this setting, I don’t see myself ever getting back into athletics or any traditional setting. If anyone out there has any questions or wants to know more about this setting, please feel free to reach out.
I am happy to discuss further and share more insight about it.
Natalie can be contacted via email at email@example.com. Please reference Train Like a Pro should you choose to reach out. You can also follow her social media on IG: @_natalieeec
Did you learn something valuable about Athletic Training in the Industrial setting? Share this post with a friend that you think could learn something too.
Please give Natalie a big thank you for guest-writing this Train Like a Pro article!
Here is a case-study where an Industrial Setting Company reduced OSHA Recordables (injury/illness) by 93% through the implementation of an Athletic Trainer. 93%!
The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a trained listener, call 988.
Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.