Is an Entry-Level Master’s The Best Route for Athletic Training?

September 1, 2013

This is a topic that has been around for several years now and I think it highly debated not only in athletic training, but in many different professions. Over the years, we’ve seen what some would call “degree inflation” in that a bachelor’s degree is no longer enough to be a professional. At one time, having a college degree was a big deal whereas now most people are getting at least a master’s degree. We have to consider if a master’s is the lowest that an athletic training professional should be required to possess.
At our summer session in June, we heard from Micki Cuppett, the Executive Director for CAATE and we also had a lively discussion amongst the students as to whether an entry-level masters (ELM) was the right route for our profession. In the August/September issue of the NATA News Dr. William Prentice from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill takes on this important topic. I believe he does a good job of remaining balanced and presenting the issue without necessarily shooting down the idea of making the transition. He does seem to oppose the idea based on a lack of research indicating that an advanced degree is necessary.
I believe there are advantages of making a switch to the ELM, but there are also disadvantages that have been brought up before. Let’s look at a few potential advantages and a few potential disadvantages.
•Advanced degree
•Ability to take additional classes
• Potential to be more research-based
• Believed to strengthen profession by weeding out less interested individuals

• Additional debt
• Eliminates graduate assistant positions
• Not clear what requirements would be in place for applicants

I do believe there are potential advantages to making this transition. But right now there are many questions that I believe out-weigh those advantages. The additional debt is definitely concerning to many because athletic training is not considered to be exactly the best-paying profession out there and there is no proof that by attaining an advanced degree the salary would improve. I can say that it would have priced me out of the profession. Another is the elimination of the graduate assistant positions. This can tie into a cost factor, but also from an experience standpoint. As Mitchell Gill tweeted me, his graduate assistant position allowed him to get his master’s degree and the experience that came along with that time. I had a former co-worker who did possess an ELM and she expressed concern about the lack of clinical experience that others can obtain when they pursue a master’s.

Probably my biggest concern with the potential transition is there is no standard prerequisite classes that one must take as an undergraduate student. Proponents say that this would improve our profession, but if one can get a bachelor’s in basket weaving and then get into an ELM program, then how has that improved the educational program? In fact, that could decrease the amount of classes required for the athletic training program. Other professions do not have specific undergraduate degrees that are required, but only a list of courses you must take. I’m not sure if that is the right route for us if we want to “improve our profession.”

Instead I have to wonder if a two-step approach is not more appropriate? There are many successful post-professional programs out there that are improving our profession and it is my belief that our professionals need to lean more toward these types of programs after obtaining the bachelor’s degree. This would allow one to become a certified athletic trainer after completing and undergraduate degree (and passing the BOC exam) and then they can choose a specialty of sorts as they select a master’s degree.

As Dr. Prentice says, there is much to be considered before making this big of a transition. I am making my voice heard. You should do the same!


6 Responses to “Is an Entry-Level Master’s The Best Route for Athletic Training?”

  1. Natalie Massey Says:

    If you love sports, working with people and medical situations then becoming an Athletic Trainer is perfect. The higher you raise your education, you get more experience.

  2. Stay tuned, there is more, much more evidence to be presented on the topic of the appropriate degree for athletic training. While I like and very much respect Dr. Prentice there is much more evidence and many more points to consider…stay tuned!

    • Patrick, I look forward to hearing more! Please let us know! I think it would be interesting to see some sort of step-program toward certification with required residency of some sort. Not sure entirely how that would play out, but something to think about..

  3. JE: Autonomous situations, learning and supervision can all occur simultaneously. An MS degree can, and should, provide a thesis which allows for an intense focus on Evidence Based Medicine. This will be the catalyst which allows us to develop respect among other healthcare providers. In addition, evidence will finally put some of our “stone aged” practices to rest.

  4. onomary Says:

    Well said Victor Liberi!

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