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Pivoting in an Emergency: The Pandemic’s Impact on Regulation and the Athletic Trainer Role

The pandemic has had a major impact on the practice of athletic training. In addition, regulators that oversee licensing of Athletic Trainers (ATs) have had to pivot in response – both administratively and in relation to laws that define practice parameters. ATs have shifted to new roles and practice settings during this time and laws in some states have expanded in scope to enable ATs to jump into different positions to meet the public needs of the pandemic, as many of their existing roles took a pause. As the pandemic begins to subside, many are asking what the future impact of these issues will be within the athletic training profession and the agencies that regulate ATs.

Many states have made regulatory modifications, issuing executive orders or enacting legislative changes to scope of practice for the profession to enable adjustments in duties for ATs. Issues such as telehealth and mobility have become more prominent as well, impacting the way ATs practice.

The BOC reached out to two ATs to capture what they have faced during these uncertain times of the pandemic.

Benjamin Henry, MS, LAT, ATC is currently the Head Athletic Trainer for Work-Fit in Everett, Wash. where his team works directly with aerospace mechanics, providing preventative care and wellness programming. Tanya Miller, MS, LAT, ATC, CES, our second source, is a practicing AT and assistant director of sports medicine at Shippenburg University in Pennsylvania, in addition to being the governmental affairs chair for the Pennsylvania Athletic Trainers’ Society (PATS).

The BOC asked them the following questions:

What impact did the pandemic have on your professional role? Describe how you have responded to the pandemic professionally?

Explain how any emergency executive orders, legislation or regulations have changed your practice and the role of ATs?

What changes have you implemented, due to the pandemic and which, if any, will be made permanent? Which should or will return to their previous state?

Regulations put in place related to scope of practice will likely adjust on a state-by-state basis. Miller is hopeful that the ability for ATs to continue in expanded roles will remain after the pandemic subsides. In the academic setting Miller is seeing the shift to in-person happening, following a period of adjustment during the height of the pandemic. The majority of AT programs are in the midst of planning and already implementing some level of face-to-face instruction.

Looking towards the future, the BOC gathered input from Mark R. Brengelman, attorney at law, from Frankfort, Kentucky to gain his vision of how the athletic training profession and those that regulate it have been and will continue to be impacted by the pandemic. In his past role as Assistant Attorney General for the state of Kentucky focused on administrative law, Mark was the assigned counsel and prosecuting attorney to numerous health professions licensure boards.

He foresees many AT practice functions continuing to be facilitated through telehealth, but hands-on practice functions would likely return to in-person.

He noted that many changes to the administrative process such as hearings, investigations and applications and board meetings will likely remain online and via virtual methods.

In addition, the impact of the pandemic has clearly shown how state regulatory bodies can adapt and demonstrate flexibility while still adhering to oversight of ATs in each state.

It is clear the pandemic has affected the practice of athletic training and the practice of regulating Athletic Trainers in many ways, good and bad. What changes have you implemented? What will be made permanent? What should or will return to a pre-pandemic state? We encourage you to engage in this topic on the State Regulatory Network by commenting on the article with how the pandemic has impacted your work as a regulator and those you regulate.

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