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In-Depth Look: Athletic Trainer in a Collegiate Setting Adapts During Pandemic

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Micah Smith, MS, MHA, LAT, ATC, CES is an assistant Athletic Trainer (AT) at the University of Arkansas Little Rock and has been practicing as an AT for four years. As the world was impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Smith shares his perspective on adapting and evolving during the health care crisis.

Describe your employment setting before the COVID-19 pandemic.

I served as a collegiate AT for a Division I men’s basketball team with the opportunity to punch a ticket to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. My typical schedule would consist of treatment and rehabs throughout the day, pre-practice tape and warm up to post-practice treatments.

Describe how your title and/or employment setting changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I took a course to familiarize myself with COVID-19 and became a contact tracer. My revised role consisted of tracing contacts made when a student-athlete had a positive test. In addition, I screened members of the athletic department as they would enter the athletic facilities via temperature checks and questionnaire screening. I was even able to communicate with COVID-19 testing centers to strike a deal and schedule each of our student-athletes to be tested in accordance with our conference requirements.

What do you like about your positions before and after COVID-19?

Before COVID-19, I enjoyed the opportunity to work with a diverse group of student-athletes of all different backgrounds.

After the onset of COVID-19, I feel that the athletic training profession is more valued as a whole by the entire athletic department. ATs often work behind the scenes and can be taken for granted. As health care professionals, we are at the forefront of our respective departments and there has been an increase in acknowledgement of what we do.

Describe the challenges and positive aspects of your new role.

Some challenges ATs, as a whole, are facing now are an increase in workload and responsibility due to the constant changes and protocols. One of the main challenges has been adapting to ongoing changes.

As an AT, I am continually adapting to the new information and protocols being set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our conference. In turn though, although I did not sign up or go to school to learn how to work during a pandemic, I did sign up to be an AT in which there are no two days that are alike.

What do you feel the impact, personally and professionally, has been on you because of this role change?

The impact for me personally due to my role change has been a sense of gratefulness. I did not go to school to screen for symptoms and administer temperature checks, but I am grateful I can adapt and still be employed during a pandemic.

Professionally, I feel the impact of COVID-19 will increase the level of gratitude for ATs as health care professionals. ATs do more than tape ankles, we have the capabilities to help stop the spread of a global pandemic and that is being seen across our country.

What is your greatest achievement as an Athletic Trainer?

I was one of the first African Americans to graduate from the athletic training program at Anderson University, Indiana.

What advice do you have for other Athletic Trainers?

Some advice I would give other ATs is to remember the reason why they became an AT. Whether it be the passion to help others or the inspiration from an AT impacting their life, when things become stressful, remember the reason(s) why you became an AT. Keeping those things in perspective can ease stress. Another important piece of advice is to do your best to separate work life and your personal life. Burnout is real and making sure your mental health and well-being are taken care of is vitally important.

The article was originally published in the 2020 winter "Cert Update" newsletter.

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