Getting out there: Athletic Trainers make all the difference in getting players back on the field

It’s more than just providing ice bags and taping ankles for students in the Athletic Training Program (ATP) at Minnesota State. Athletic Training Students (ATS) gain real-world experience through aiding student rehabilitation to get athletes back in the game. 

Starting as a minor in 1969, the AT program was one of the first in the country. It grew to a major in 1982 and included a master’s program in 2016. Besides passing classes, the 52-credit program requires students to participate in clinicals each semester. During their second year, ATS will do preseasons with a sports team and participate in rotations where they stick with a team for 10 weeks.

AT Professor Patrick Sexton said rotations allow students to witness a variety of experiences.

“They have to have experiences with different types of sports and physical activities, but they also have to have experiences in hospitals and clinics to deal with the medical side of things we deal with,” Sexton said. 

Along with clinical, the students do so-called immersives where they stay with one team for a rotation. Dylan Ward is currently doing his immersive with the MSU football team where he puts in 40 hours a week. 

“It feels like a job which is good because it’s going through the motions of what it would feel like to be working rather than just being a student that only goes 20 hours a week,” Ward said. 

On game days, Ward’s day starts at 8:30 a.m. From preparing water bottles to bringing emergency equipment out to the field to taping the players right before the game, his day ends around 5:30 after any post-game evaluations and light treatments. 

“It doesn’t feel like a nine-hour day. There may be one long hour, but three hours can just fly by,” Ward said. 

Depending on where the students go, their days differ. Megumi Furuta finished a rotation with the Minnesota Twins over the summer and is an AT at Mankato East High School. 

“I’ll do a quick evaluation if they need something and prepare ice and emergency stuff. I watch the practice or game and afterward, some people come in for treatment,” Furuta said.

The program allows students to apply what they learned in the classroom right away. 

“For example, if I teach them about electrotherapy, when we finish up, they can walk into their clinical setting and can do it on a patient under their preceptor,” Sexton said. “By the time our students leave, they’re really good clinicians.” 

Sammi Siggelkow said she enjoys the real-world experience she gets. 

“We’re not just sitting in class and learning things. We go to our lectures and then our clinicals and apply it. It’s very hands-on and you see real-life situations rather than just reading it in the textbook. It’s being able to talk to patients and build rapport with them,” Siggelkow said.

Siggelkow is currently working with the cross country and track team until Halloween. She became interested in the AT Program after getting an injury in high school and working with her high school’s trainer. 

“I just happened to come to an open house for athletic training and that’s how I knew I wanted to come here and work with athletes. I knew I didn’t want to be in a clinic. I’d rather be on the field and doing all that,” Siggelkow said. 

The AT program teaches students injury prevention, orthopedic and general medical evaluation, wound care, suturing and ultrasound evaluation. Emergency care such as concussion assessment and cardiac arrest are also taught on the rare occasion they may be needed. 

“Danny Killington was the first one out on the field (regarding Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest in the Bills vs. Bengals game in Jan. 2023). He started CPR, defibrillated him and saved his life out on the field. Emergency care is a pretty darn good reason to have athletic trainers,” Sexton said. 

Aside from treating patients, Siggelkow said a majority of the job is building camaraderie and trust with the athletes. 

“While you’re doing their treatment, you’re kind of just talking to them talking about their day, getting to know them as well, because then when they come back in for rehab or treatment, you have trust with them,” Siggelkow said.

Sasha Broniola also works with the football team. While the program can only hold up to 30 students, she said those who love sports and want to help people should consider becoming an AT. 

“You get to know the athletes and they want to get to know you as well. When you have that connection, they’re like a coworker and a friend,” Broniola said. 

Medical Director for Athletic Trainers Todd Kanzenbach said ATS work with him, mainly for hockey and football, when a doctor is required to be on site. 

“The trainers will present the injured athlete to me, tell me what the injury and their symptoms are and how they plan to rehab it. They’re almost acting as an assistant,” Kanzenbach said. 

ATS also makes doctors’ jobs more efficient. 

“In a clinic, physicians can see 20 patients a day on their own. When our team physicians come in, they can see 15 to 20 patients in half an hour because the athletic trainers can tell them what’s going on,” Sexton said.

Kanzenbach said job possibilities for ATS are expanding rapidly. 

“They’re not only just at universities working with sports teams. They’re now working in medical clinics and they’re often doing rehabilitation in the physical therapy departments. Their roles and their opportunities also continue to expand,” Kanzenbach said. 

ATS can be found outside of schools and professional settings. Some alumni of MSU have gone on to be ATs for the military, Amazon and Cirque Du Soleil. 

Ward said students should consider joining the ATP due to how rewarding it is to interact with the patients. 

“It’s a professional-like healthcare relationship, but it’s as friendly a relationship as you can have in that setting which I think is really beneficial and you can really truly make a difference,” Ward said. “The more you talk to them and help them, the more they see your value and the more they’re willing to open up.”

Header Photo: Students in the Athletic Training Program use mannequins to help practice assessing any injuries athletes may obtain on the field. The ATP program was one of the first in the nation. (Photos by Alexis Darkow/The Reporter)

Write to Emma Johnson at emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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