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Featured Educator – Elizabeth Elder

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Elizabeth “Lizzie” Elder, PhD, LAT, ATC is the program director and associate professor of the Athletic Training Program for the University of Alabama.

How long have you been a PD at this institution? What has your transition been like?

This is my seventh year here at The University of Alabama (UA) overall, and my second year in the role of program director (PD). I was an assistant professor previously teaching and doing research, but I became interested in the administrative functions of athletic training education. Deidre Leaver-Dunn was our department’s PD for 20 years. When she was promoted to Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, I stepped into the open PD role. I received tenure in 2020.

My transition into the role has been relatively smooth. Deidre’s presence here has assisted with the onboarding. She was my mentor before taking her new role, and the relationship has continued. I’ve also been proactively reaching out to other mentors, both on campus and through my professional network. I am always impressed with how much those in the athletic training profession and organizations that support Athletic Trainers (ATs) are willing to answer questions and provide assistance. The athletic department here at UA is very supportive of the athletic training program and this relationship has helped during the transition. The clinical staff has also helped as adjunct professors as we have had to work through social distancing and room capacities during COVID.

How has COVID-19 impacted your program?

The biggest challenge and opportunity I’ve faced since taking on the PD role has been managing the changes brought about with COVID-19. After only a couple of months in my position, we were hit with a lot of change and uncertainty. We’ve actually been very fortunate because of our great faculty that were committed to making the student experience the best it could be. We also have a great group of students in the program that were willing to adapt along with the process. After a challenging spring, our faculty made the commitment to evaluate all assignments and activities over the summer to make sure they were impactful and could be delivered in variety of platforms, as we were entering the fall with a lot of uncertainty. We looked at all teaching methods and it was definitely a chance to evaluate all we were doing.

We have been in person since the fall semester, following safety guidelines and clinical protocols. This shift has helped greatly with the impact of our program. We’ve also been able to maintain all of our clinical sites as they see the value add of having our students there, and they advocated for the students to be able to return and provide health care while learning.

Do you teach any classes? If so, which one(s)?

I currently teach Upper Extremity Evaluation, Clinical Biomechanics and Rehabilitation and Reconditioning. I co-teach the rehab course with our director of rehabilitation from our football department. We have several courses with a core faculty member and a clinical staff as the adjunct which has really enhanced the student experience.I’ve also taught a few additional classes in the fall as COVID-19 impacted us. In addition, I do research and academic advising, as well as my PD role.

How many students are currently in your program?

We currently have 73 in our Bachelor of Science in Athletic Training program. In 2022 we will be transitioning to a Master of Science in Athletic Training program. It’s been an interesting time to enter this role as we move forward in this transition from undergraduate. I’ve seen the development of this new program at nearly every level and feel I offer a fresh set of eyes. My involvement all along will help make me a more effective leader in years to come.

How do you prepare your students for the BOC exam? What tools and resources do you use?

Our students are working toward the BOC exam from day one. In our program, we start preparing students for the exam before they even begin their first academic course. Students purchase the Practice Analysis (PA) as part of their orientation. They learn initially about how it is constructed and how they will effectively use it over the next three years to develop their academic plan. The content becomes a fundamental part of the education – it’s not just a tool for studying for the exam in their final semester. Each instructor integrates appropriate elements from the PA into coursework. Task statements within a class syllabus are tied back to the PA so it’s very clear to students how the components fit into their professional education. In addition, our instructors try to use some of the exam guidelines to help design exam questions throughout our program. Our own exams mimic the language and structure they will see on the BOC exam. It is pervasive throughout our coursework.

Once our students enter their final semester, we use the BOC’s Self-Assessment Exams (SAE) to support exam preparation. Our department pays for one SAE per student and Deidre (our previous PD) teaches a seminar course that includes BOC exam prep. On the first day she discusses the exam and types of questions. The students then create the syllabus for the seminar based on identified subject matter gaps. If needed, we bring people in to support needed areas of focus. We listen to the students and determine areas in which they need more review. Deidre has created a bank of our own exam questions. Students take several “practice” exams. In addition to going over content these are an opportunity to sit for four hours, taking an exam of similar length, replicating the BOC exam experience as closely as possible.

There are a lot of resources out there through the BOC – it makes sense to take advantage of everyone you can. In addition, having students interact and talk to staff from the BOC is invaluable. It’s another means to get information from a different, interactive source. We’re so appreciative of their willingness to assist and provide support.

Please provide some tips for how you prepare your students for entering the real world (e.g. completing the BOC paperwork post-exam, state licensure/registration/certification, NPI numbers).

In our program, our goal is to prepare students to be beyond entry-level clinicians when they graduate. While we get them ready to take the BOC exam, our focus is that they are strong professionals. As part of this we talk to them about the processes they need to be aware of. We share the tools and information they need to access and stress what they need to do even before they receive their certification results. We teach them to be informed consumers of information, empowering them.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for other PDs?

My biggest recommendation to others in this role is to simply ask for help. If you don’t know something or need more information reach out to others on your own campus or within professional organizations. Look for other athletic training programs to emulate and draw information from them. I also look beyond the athletic training world for assistance. For example, our program is focused on assessment and we utilize the UA Office of Institutional Effectiveness to leverage their expertise on this subject.

Another piece of advice for a PD is to be very organized. In this role you just have so many balls in the air and so many deadlines to keep track of.Prepare realistic timelines and systems that keep you on track. If you need something done make sure you budget an appropriate amount of time to accomplish it.

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