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Improving the Health of the Community

By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Networkathletic trainers

I am an Athletic Trainer by education. Much of my work years have been spent in high schools, colleges, and sports medicine clinics. During my career, there have been occasions to participate in health fairs and community health & wellness events. As Athletic Trainers, Strength & Conditioning Coaches, and Personal Trainers, we are all inherently teachers, so it is not uncommon for us to be called on to teach any version of wellness classes for a variety of organizations. And, if you are anything like me, this is a chance to help others begin a healthier lifestyle, as well as a way to showcase your talents. Health and fitness professionals have a great opportunity to help public health organizations carry out their mission of improving the health of the community.

Let’s begin with the Athletic Trainer. With all of the talk about head injuries in youth sports, I began to look into the status of Athletic Trainers in high schools. A great thing about Athletic Trainers is that they are skilled at evaluating all manner of illnesses and injuries and knowing which medical professional to consult with. Along with the school nurse, any school (college or high school) that has an athletic trainer also has a team of specialists in their communities (on speed-dial) who are all in place to keep our athletes as healthy as possible. The sad thing is that most high schools do not have athletic trainers; there is no one there to evaluate head injuries, let alone the latest rash.

Strength & Conditioning coaches working in these same high school and college settings are also skilled in identifying those athletes with issues ranging from orthopedic to metabolic. All it takes is a keen eye to observe structural or technical problems during exercise, or an athlete who cannot seem to catch their breath or may seem more fatigued than normal. These observational skills become more heightened with additional years of experience, thus ultimately proving pretty important in keeping athletes healthy.

The Personal Trainer, much like the Strength & Conditioning coach is generally hired to improve someone’s health and fitness. A couple of the main differences in focus between these two professionals is that the age range of clients that Personal Trainers work with is much wider, and these clients often present with many “old” injuries and an accumulation of chronic metabolic diseases.

I mention all of this to point out that, while similar in practice, the range of skills provided by of these professionals is pretty vast. In addition, the need for all of these services from educational seminars to fitness classes is growing –especially among the underserved or at-risk populations. It is here that I believe all of us will make significant contributions in the years to come.

The short-term goal might be to work to get Athletic Trainers in every high school. These professionals will be able to educate parents, coaches, athletes, and peers about some of the more pressing issues such as head injuries, nutrition, and injury prevention. In addition, Athletic Trainers can immediately, and appropriately, address any of these issues as they appear. Then I propose that each school hire a Strength & Conditioning coach who is properly trained and credentialed to oversee the weight-lifting and fitness programs. Next, there are numerous Personal Trainers in every community who are also interested in the health and safety of our athletes. And, our athletes also have siblings and parents in need of guidance. Finally, using the “it takes a village” approach, and using the school as a starting point, I propose that all of the professionals mentioned above form a community health team that creates events that will provide services and educate both the school and the wider communities. This is an important service that can be provided, especially given that so many families are in need of guidance. Along with school nurses and a group of team physicians, this approach can certainly be a wise one when you consider how this will aid in the prevention of injuries. Ultimately, this approach can have a positive effect on the health of the community.

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