I was doing some research for an upcoming project recently when I came across an editorial in a 1991 issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine. It was written by Robert E. Leach, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon in Boston, Massachusetts. Leach served as President of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine from 1983 to 1984. He was Editor of the American Journal of Sports Medicine from 1991 to 2001. His editorial for that issue was simply titled, “Athletic trainers.”

In that editorial, he recalled receiving a letter from an athletic trainer/physical therapist who worked in a college athletic department. The athletic trainer described to Leach the collegiality between the coaches, doctors and athletic trainers and how it benefited everyone involved with the athletes.

The words he used to describe athletic trainers are worth reading and remembering today.

“Certainly, one group that is tremendously helpful to us, and deserves our priority, is the athletic trainers. We have a unique working relationship and evidently many of our colleagues appreciate this and are deeply involved in mutual educational efforts with our athletic trainer colleagues. For those who are already involved, all of us owe you a debt of gratitude.”

Athletic trainers are key members of the sports medicine team.

Also read:
Athletic trainers: Some of sports’ true heroes
Athletic trainers in schools: An interview with Mike Hopper, ATC
Healthy athlete tip: Hire an athletic trainer for your school or team

Leach goes on to emphasize the key role that athletic trainers play on the medical staffs of team sports.

“Any medical doctor who is taking care of athletic teams knows that a primary key to good care of the athletes is the working relationship with the trainer. Trainers put in long hours, are usually underpaid, and bear the brunt of the work load plus the day-to-day complaints from athletes, coaches, and assorted others. The doctor arrives … usually in the late afternoon, does some examinations, makes some definitive care statements, gives orders, and charges off, leaving the athletic trainer in charge again. Actually, most team doctors probably do better than this, but their time is limited at the athletic facility compared to that of the trainer.”

Athletic trainers work long hours, late into the nights and on weekends. They serve as first responders for on-field medical or injury emergencies. They evaluate every athlete who gets hurt in games and practices. They help with the athlete’s rehabilitation. They design and run injury prevention programs. And they serve a crucial role in fostering communication between the doctors, coaches, and athletes so that everyone is on the same page in terms of the athlete’s planned return to sports.

If you are a parent or coach of a young athlete, take time to recognize and thank the athletic trainer of his or her team for all of their hard work. If you are a team doctor for a high school, college, or professional team, you probably spend more time with the athletic trainers, but make sure to show your appreciation too.

Athletic trainers, thank you for all you do. It is just as important now as it was in 1991.

Also listen to these discussions from The Dr. David Geier Show:
Episode 9: How important are athletic trainers for schools and sports teams? (starts at 12:00)
Episode 76: How can athletic trainers work with coaches to best serve the athletes? (starts at 6:00)

Athletic trainers helping a soccer player off the field

Robert E. Leach, MD. Editorial: Athletic trainers. American Journal of Sports Medicine. Vol. 19, No. 6. 1991.