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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Moving to a Master's?

Published June 26, 2014 6:05 PM by Jon Bassett

INDIANAPOLIS -- In December 2013, the National Athletic Trainers Association (NATA) released a white paper titled "Professional Education in Athletic Training," a 23-page document that examined the issue of moving the profession of athletic training from a bachelor's to an entry-level master's degree.

The document, the result of a work group composed of experts and representatives of the Committee on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), summarized that "it is the conclusion of this group that professional education in athletic training should occur at the master’s degree level."

But the document has not been met with universal acceptance among members of the profession, and the issue has been fraught with conflicting opinions. A spirited discussion titled "The Appropriate Professional Degree for the Professions of Athletic Training" was held Thursday afternoon June 26 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis in an effort to hear comments from the work group and the audience.

Lennart Johns, PhD, ATC, professor and chair of the sports medicine and athletic training department at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and James Scifers, DScPT, LAT, ATC, director of the School of Health Sciences at Western Carolina University in Culowhee, NC, presented a point-counterpoint session debating the findings in the white paper and the potential effects on the athletic training profession.

"We tried to objectively analyze the data" while keeping emotions out of the debate, said Johns, making the point that currently, roughly 50% of instructional hours are devoted to athletic training instruction in 4-year programs -- the rest being comprised of general education courses. Since most master's level programs are an additional two years, instructional hours devoted to athletic training principles would effectively double, should the profession make the shift to master's-level entry. 

Panel speakers and audience members in support of the move cited increased retention, elevated respect, improved patient perception, and potentially higher pay as reasons to shift to an entry-level master's. Several educational programs, such as the University of Montana (according to one member of the audience), is phasing out its undergraduate athletic training degree in favor of an entry-level master's. 

However, cost was cited by many commenters as a serious obstacle, particularly given low salaries in the profession.  Starting salaries among those with a bachelor's degree across all disciplines averages around $45,000, Scifers said, and athletic training remains below that. "We need to get our graduates to that level," he said.

Bill Prentice, PhD, ATC, PT, FNATA, professor in the department of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, thanked the panel members for the open dialogue and looked forward to more discussion. "It doesn't have to be us vs. them," Prentice said.

The issue is still in the discussion phase and no plans to implement the recommendations of the panel have yet been announced. 

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