How to Become an Athletic Trainer – A Quick Guide

You might have seen individuals rushing toward athletes when they suffer an injury during a game. One of those people approaching the athlete is an athletic trainer.

An athletic trainer specializes in preventing, evaluating, managing, and recuperating injuries and medical conditions related to physical activity.

Apart from working with athletes and helping them continue their sport, athletic trainers also work with physical laborers to help them avoid and recover from workplace injuries.

Since an athletic trainer’s job is critical to another person’s health, they require proper training and education before assuming their roles in the field. Below is a quick guide to attaining the qualifications and skills to become an athletic trainer.

Understand the Role of an Athletic Trainer

As an athletic trainer, you must prevent, diagnose, and treat injuries and medical conditions of physically active people. You must also be proficient in concussions, rehab, and various medical conditions.

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With that said, you must not confuse the role of an athletic trainer with that of a physical therapist. While many of the functions of an athletic trainer, such as treating injuries and designing rehabilitation programs, overlap with that of a physical therapist, an athletic trainer primarily works with athletes. In contrast, a physical trainer works with a broader range of people with various conditions.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Athletic Training

Many prestigious universities offer bachelor’s programs in athletic training. These degrees combine anatomy, physiology, exercise science, and injury prevention coursework with hands-on clinical experiences. Some programs may also require supplementary coursework in nutrition and psychology.

For those unable to attend traditional on-campus programs, some universities also offer online bachelor degree in kinesiology, exercise science, sports medicine, and other related fields. The online programs offer students flexibility in taking classes at any time while providing hands-on clinical experiences through internships or other supervised interventions. Online programs are also accelerated with fewer breaks.

When registering for an online program, make sure it is accredited by a professional accrediting agency to meet the necessary standards for applying for certification as an athletic trainer.

Complete a Master’s Degree

While having a bachelor’s degree is sufficient if you are eyeing entry-level positions as an athletic trainer, a master’s degree is necessary for more critical roles and advanced positions.

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A master’s degree focuses on more specialized areas, such as rehabilitation or sports performance. With a master’s degree, you are also exposed to more research opportunities and leadership roles in the field. Furthermore, some states require a master’s degree for athletic trainer licensure.

Like a bachelor’s degree, your chosen master’s degree program must be accredited by the right accrediting body (Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE)). The accreditation ensures that the degree meets the licensure requirements.

Gain Hands-On Experience

After gaining your educational qualifications, the next step is to gain experience through clinical rotations or internships.

Internships and clinical rotations provide an excellent opportunity to work with professional athletic trainers and benefit from their extensive experience in the field. Internships can be paid or unpaid and offered by your institute or other organizations.

As an intern, you are most likely responsible for tasks like cleaning and setting up equipment and providing supplements after a training session. Often your internship focuses on a specific area of athletic training, such as strength and conditioning or sports performance.

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While performing your roles as an intern, you can observe how professional athletic trainers work with their clients and the interventions used for a specific injury or condition. 

Clinical rotations are a bit different from internships. They usually occur in healthcare facilities such as sports medicine clinics or hospitals where licensed healthcare professionals supervise the up-and-coming trainers.

During clinical rotation, you work with patients of all ages and skill ranks, from youth sports to professional teams. You may participate in multiple activities and services such as injury prevention programs, first aid, emergency management, and rehabilitation.

Pass the Board of Certification Exam

Passing the Board of Certification (BOC) exam is indispensable for becoming a certified athletic trainer. The exam tests the knowledge and skills needed to provide quality healthcare to physically active individuals.

There are certain eligibility requirements for appearing on the Board of Certification exam. These requirements include a CAATE-accredited bachelor’s degree and a specific number of clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed athletic trainer.

The BOC exam is completely computer-based and includes 175 multiple-choice questions. The minimum passing score for the exam is 500.

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The exam covers five domains:

  1. Injury/illness prevention and wellness protection
  2. Organizational and professional health and well-being
  3. Clinical evaluation and diagnosis
  4. Treatment and rehabilitation
  5. Immediate and emergency care

Once you pass the exam, you must stay engaged with continuing education to maintain your certification.

Obtain State Licensure

State licensure requirements for athletic trainers vary by state. Some states require athletic trainers to be licensed to practice, while others only require certification by the Board of Certification (BOC).

In addition to passing a state-specific exam, individuals must meet education and clinical experience requirements to obtain a license. The state licensing requirements may also include certification by BOC and meeting continuing education requirements.

Since every state has its own state licensure requirements, you must research the licensure rules for the state where you wish to pursue your career as an athletic trainer. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) is an excellent resource for information on state licensure requirements.

Look for the Athletic Trainer Jobs

While you might have dreamt about working with a professional sports team, you still need time to hone your skills to land such a high-profile position. Meanwhile, fitness centers, high schools, recreational centers, and hospitals are excellent workplace options to polish your skills and build your portfolio.

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Before applying for athletic trainer jobs, research job openings and review the job requirements and qualifications. To stand out among other candidates, have a strong resume and cover letter highlighting your education, clinical experience, and certifications. To boost your job opportunities, network within the athletic training community, attend job fairs, and use online job search websites.


Promoting clients’ health and wellness and providing preventative care is the primary goal of an athletic trainer. Athletic trainers employ prevention programs, conditioning exercises, and proper nutrition and hydration education to keep their clients fit.

Performing such critical roles requires the right qualifications and skills, such as a bachelor’s degree in athletic training and passing the Board of Certification exam. You also need to gain practical experience through clinical rotations or internships and be willing to work in various settings for practice.

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